PA's Electoral College Bill Will DIsenfranchise Democrats

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Nov. 9, 2011

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There’s a storm brewing in Harrisburg. And if you’re a conservative, it’s perfect.

State Republicans hold more power now (in the state House, Senate and governorship) than they’ve had in decades. And they’re not wasting it. Over the last 10 months, the party’s gone all out against the citizens, legislatively: Attempting to kill women’s rights through bizarre architecture legislation and state-sponsored torture; repressing poor and homeless voter’s rights through Voter ID legislation; potential drug-test rules for people on welfare; and Arizona-style immigration legislation.

Up next: Senate Bill 1282, a shady electoral college plan to give out Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by district instead of population. Add to that the fact that Republicans will be redrawing those very same congressional districts this year, and we’ve got outright gerrymandering on our hands.

The plan, thought up by Sen. Dominic Pileggi of Chester, would change the way Pennsylvania distributes its 20 electoral votes in presidential elections. Currently, Pennsylvania uses the winner-take-all system, meaning that whoever wins the state’s popular vote gets all that state’s electoral votes. Pileggi’s plan would separate electoral votes by congressional district instead of by population, which many say would benefit Republicans, since the state’s Democratic bookends (Philly and Pittsburgh) have tipped the scales toward Democrats in the last five presidential elections.

In local practice, it’d look like this: Philadelphia’s two majority congressional districts (District 1, held by Bob Brady; and District 2, held by Chaka Fattah) are highly Democratic and potentially make up millions of Democratic votes. All the votes in these districts are currently added up with the rest of the state’s popular vote and the winner takes all (Pennsylvania formerly had 21 electoral votes; it’s getting cut down to 20 in 2012, due to a sluggish 3.5 percent state population growth). According to Pileggi’s plan, if the presidential candidate won Philadelphia, he or she would get at least two electoral votes in the next election—whether that candidate wins Philadelphia by a single vote, or, as was the case in 2008, about 400,000.

Therefore, in the next election, even if President Obama wins the statewide popular vote, he could end up with fewer electoral college votes than his Republican challenger. If the law had been in practice in 2008, when Obama won the state by 10 points, he’d only have taken 11 of the then-21 votes. (Both Pennsylvania senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey would have a vote, too, and would give them to the candidate who wins the majority of the state.)

Pileggi insists his plan is not a partisan one. But that’s exactly how criticism and praise has broken down.

State Sen. Anthony Williams (D) of Philadelphia has called Pileggi’s electoral college plan “chilling” because it marginalizes the most diverse portion of the state. “We [of Southeastern PA] have people of all persuasions and all faiths,” he said at a recent hearing. “To suggest that we take away their voices is duplicitous.”

But state Rep. Babette Josephs, who represents Pennsylvania’s 182nd District, sees something more sinister at play. She says this bill, along with Voter ID and anti-immigration legislation, is meant to crush Philadelphia’s often-lopsided state representation due to a heavy population and need of resources.

“I think there has been a plan to lessen Philadelphia’s standing in the state,” she says. “We’re the people who bring out the Democratic vote. This is where the Democratic votes are concentrated … and I think the Voter ID requirements and others are aimed in that direction.”

The bill could also hurt Pennsylvania’s standing in national politics, as well. “[Pennsylvania’s spot as a swing state] highlights the state … The economic payoff and civic pride that comes to a state that gets that kind of national attention cannot be replicated by anything,” Josephs says.

Of course, Gov. Corbett responded favorably to Pileggi’s plan (as did the state’s 12 U.S. House Republicans). “There are huge portions of Pennsylvania that voted for the other candidate in many of the elections, and their vote really didn’t count,” he said earlier this fall, when the plan was introduced. And if he really feels that way—‘representative democracy’ be damned—then he’s in the right place at the right time. After all, last year was a census year. Which makes this year a redistricting year. With Republicans controlling Harrisburg, they’re required by law to redraw the state’s congressional map before the electoral college plan comes into play. The majority party always does this to make it as hard as possible for Democrats to take back one-time “swing” seats, an added benefit of doing all this, now.

It’s like this: This year’s new congressional and legislative maps will be drawn by two Democrats and three Republicans, then sent to the House and Senate for a vote. Some potential legislative maps have already been released, but none yet voted upon. At least one of those maps eliminates the 169th District in the Northeast. The seat would potentially be moved to York County, where a more conservative Republican could take the helm.

For the U.S. Congressional maps: Though at first it was assumed the eliminated district would be in a Pittsburgh suburb, several anonymous sources have been leaking to the Harrisburg press that, on second thought, why not combine Reps. Chaka Fattah’s and Allyson Schwartz’s respective Philadelphia and suburban Philadelphia districts? This would, as a news source pointed out in March, create a “battle between suburban whites and Philadelphia blacks” and be “the kind of bloodbath the Republicans would pay to see.”

Eliminating a Democratic House seat isn’t the only consolation prize for Republicans. They can strengthen their own seats, too. Especially suburban “swing” seats, like Pennsylvania’s 8th and 7th Districts, held by freshman Republican Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick and Pat Meehan, respectively. If they redraw both seats to consist of fewer Philly suburbs and more red state rural areas, they’ve got a deal.

And reason would say they’d do the same thing in liberal Harrisburg and Pittsburgh suburban districts, too. So if Pileggi’s bill is passed, and the state is redistricted the way it likely will be, Republicans will effectively be doing their damndest, outside outright ballot stuffing, to hijack the 2012 elections. It’s the perfect storm of power grabbing, gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement and douchebaggery.

“Certainly, from the standpoint of a Republican, it’s a winner,” said former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum in September. Actually, he called it a cheap victory. “Republicans will come out ahead in Pennsylvania in every election.”

Babette Josephs agrees. “I want people to understand what sore winners these Republicans are,” she says. “They control the whole state. They look at one set of rules under which they can’t win—I mean they could work to bring out their own vote; that would be a way to win—but they say, ‘Let’s do it the easy way. Let’s change the rules.’”

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Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. Politicker said... on Nov 9, 2011 at 10:40AM

“A few corrections to your shoddy reporting:

- Rick Santorum is not a former state senator, he is a former United States senator.

- Mike Fitzpatrick represents the 8th Congressional District, Pat Meehan represents the 7th Congressional District. Not the other way around.

- The state's 12 U.S. House reps did not, as you say, respond favorably to Pileggi's plan. Several of them outright opposed it. Do the reporting yourself to figure out which.

- The House and Senate do not vote on the state legislative/senatorial redistricting plans. These plans are approved by a Legislative Reapportionment Commission that includes the leaders of each party in each house and a chairman. Learn about how the redistricting process works before you write about it.

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2. Randy said... on Nov 9, 2011 at 11:05AM


1, 2, and 4 are careless editing errors on my part -- correcting them now. As for the other, it was first reported by Capitolwire that 11 of the 12 U.S. congressmen had "questions" about the plan (as well as Voter ID) but that report was 'clarified' the next day, in which PA GOP leaders said all congressmen "showed support" for the plans.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2011 at 01:32PM

“Some context:

The leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support. Most PA state Republican legislators are opposed or not commenting.

In Maine, the only other state beside NE to use the district method, earlier this year, Republican leaders proposed and passed a constitutional amendment that, if passed at referendum, will require a 2/3rds vote in all future redistricting decisions. Then they changed their minds and wanted to pass a majority-only plan to make redistricting in their favor even easier.

Obvious partisan machinations like these should add support for the National Popular Vote movement, if now the party in control in each state is tempted every 2, 4, or 10 years (post-census) to consider rewriting election laws and redistrict with an eye to the likely politically beneficial effects.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2011 at 01:40PM

“Most Pennsylvania and U.S. voters want a national popular vote for president.

A 2008 survey of Pennsylvania voters showed 78% overall support for a national popular vote for President.
Support was 87% among Democrats, 68% among Republicans, and 76% among independents.
By gender, support was 85% among women and 71% among men.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Under National Popular Vote, every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes would get the 270 electoral votes from the enacting states.

National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don't matter to their candidate.

The bill is 49% of the way towards going into effect.


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5. Tuxman said... on Nov 10, 2011 at 12:16AM

“The framers of this country never intended for us to have our presidents elected by popular vote. Point of fact is that they originally called for each state to have the same composition of electors as in congress and that each state would choose their electors by what ever process they deemed appropriate. Theoretically, Electors could have been appointed by the governor if the legislature deemed it so. The number of electors would be in direct proportion to the population of the state plus 2 however the number of people represented by each elector though would be far fewer and PA would be represented by a much larger contingent of Electors.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Nov 10, 2011 at 02:18PM

“Prior to arriving at the eventual wording of section 1 of Article II, the Constitutional Convention specifically voted against a number of different methods for selecting the President, including
● having state legislatures choose the President,
● having governors choose the President, and
● a national popular vote.

Unable to agree on any particular method, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method for selecting presidential electors exclusively to the states by adopting the language contained in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution-- "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . ." The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

The constitution does not prohibit any of the methods that were debated and rejected.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Nov 10, 2011 at 02:19PM

“A majority of the states appointed their presidential electors using two of the rejected methods in the nation's first presidential election in 1789 (i.e., appointment by the legislature and by the governor and his cabinet). Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.

Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

In the nation's first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method.”

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8. Bo Bainbridge said... on Nov 13, 2011 at 11:57AM

“There is nothing wrong with the GOP plan to split the state's electoral votes, as long as we take it to its logical conclusion and split the state, too.”

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9. Brian said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 01:50AM

“Pennsylvania has been a Potemkin democracy for a while now. When the major parties successfully established case law (decided by a judge who was a member of the major parties) that makes ballot challenge costs personally payable by independent and third party candidates, it eradicated all choice on the ballots and ensured that the majority of constituencies are single-party dictatorships throughout the state.

The Democrats, willing accomplices in this charade, cannot complain that democracy is being undermined to their detriment when they were only too happy to undermine third party and independent candidates for their own benefit. The reality is that voting in Pennsylvania is a waste of time and gives unearned legitimacy to the corrupt political fiefdoms that exist today without any real competititon.”

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10. Ric said... on Nov 25, 2011 at 04:13PM

“Neither party should get electoral votes that they haven't earned in the Electoral district. Majority rules doesn't mean that minority lose all electoral votes. Winner take all electoral votes on the state level is unfair and undemocratic.”


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