Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reforming the Electoral College

There is a proposal to change the way that Pennsylvania apportions its electoral vote. Like most states, it is currently a winner-take-all system. The proposal is to change it so that each congressional district is winner-take-all with the remaining two votes going to whoever wins the majority vote for the state.

If a similar formula had been in place in 2000, Gore would have been president. You would think that this sort of a reform would be a no-brainer. Pennsylvania wouldn't even the first state to apportion its electors this way. Maine and Nebraska use similar formulas.

That's not how the Democrats see it. I have seen several columns insisting that this is nothing more than an attempt to steal the next election. The reason is that they consider Pennsylvania a "safe" state, one that will reliably vote Democrat so any attempt to change this is likely to hurt them. Also, the way that the congressional districts are drawn, there are more Republican-leaning districts than Democrat-leaning.

Side-note - this is really a matter of demographics. The state's Democrats are crowded into a few big cities. The rest of the state is Republican.

Pennsylvania is not as reliably Democrat as this plan's critics would have you believe. In the last ten elections, Democrats won the state six times and Republicans four times. Democrats won the last five elections but never took more than 55% of the vote. Out of the last ten elections, the state went the same way as the national winner eight times. The only two times the state backed the loser were in 2000 and 2004 and even then, the Democrat only got 51% of the vote. Republicans have always gotten at least 40% of the vote.

The Democrats' objections would make more sense if the last several elections had been blow-outs. Since the state is nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the current setup gives the Democrats an unfair advantage in electoral votes.

One objection is that John McCain would have gotten 10 votes and President Obama would have only gotten 9 plus two for winning the state (11 in all). That actually comes close to how the vote went. Obama got 55% of the vote, McCain got 44% and 1% went to "other". So this objection is that Obama's share of the electoral votes would have matched his share of the popular vote. BTW, Obama picked up an electoral vote from Nebraska even though McCain won the state.

You can see the source of my numbers here.

This is a cause that the Democrats should not take up. It is designed to make the election results more closely match the popular vote. Many Democrats thought that this was a good idea after Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but George W. Bush won the electoral vote. Also, there is no guarantee that the Democrats will take the state in 2012. The 2004 vote was 51%-49%. That makes it a potentially winnable state for the Republicans. But, if a Republican takes the state, it will be close and Obama has a chance at picking up the same nine districts.

Possibly the Democrat's biggest objection is that it hurts their ten-state strategy. The Democrats only need to win ten of the largest states to win the election. With the possibility of Pennsylvania's votes being split, they would have to make up the votes elsewhere. This has nothing to do with fairness, only with winning.

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