Change proposed for state's electoral vote process

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HARRISBURG -- A new proposal is pushing the often-forgotten Electoral College into the spotlight as Pennsylvania officials ponder the state's role in next year's presidential race.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is trying to gather support to change the state's "winner-takes-all" approach for awarding electoral votes. Instead, he's suggesting that Pennsylvania dole them out based on which candidate wins each of the 18 congressional districts, with the final two going to the contender with the most votes statewide.

So far, the idea has received support from colleagues of the Delaware County Republican in the state House and from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But Democrats, who have carried the state in presidential contests since 1992, said the shift would erode Pennsylvania's clout.

Only two states -- Nebraska and Maine -- divide their electoral votes instead of giving the whole bloc to the candidate that wins the state's popular vote. Even for those two states, the piecemeal approach has been a rarity, with Nebraska historically dividing its five votes in the 2008 election, when one went to President Barack Obama.

An analysis by the online news service Capitolwire noted that had the proposed distribution process been in place in Pennsylvania in 2008 before the state lost one congressional district due to a population decline in the 2010 census, Mr. Obama would have won only 11 of the state's 21 votes.

Blasting the idea as "a disturbing effort to put their self interests and party interests ahead of the people," Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said the plan would dangerously link the presidential vote to redistricting. In a written statement, Mr. Costa asked: "Will we now be looking at state gerrymandering that serves a larger, national agenda?"

Mr. Pileggi and others disagreed, saying congressional districts that are more competitive would receive more attention and would not be overshadowed when the state leans one way or another politically.

"It would not only change the type of attention that Pennsylvania would receive in a presidential election, but it would also choose where in Pennsylvania that attention occurs," he said.

Franklin & Marshall College political scientist G. Terry Madonna echoed that sentiment, noting that the influx of presidential funds and manpower to vulnerable congressional districts could impact local races as well.

"While I don't think it's likely to influence the outcome of the presidential election, it may spur turnout in some congressional districts with perhaps some unpredictable results," Mr. Madonna said.


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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