Pennsylvania and the electoral college

Pennsylvania Republicans are considering a plan to change that state’s winner-take-all system for awarding electoral votes for President.  Instead of the state’s 20 electoral votes going to whichever candidate carries Pennsylvania, 18 of the electoral votes would go to whoever gets a majority in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts, with the remaining two going to whoever carries the state.

PA congressional districts

Only two states—Maine and Nebraska—award their electoral votes this way.  All the rest go with winner-take-all.  The Pennsylvania Republican thinking is that Democrats normally carry Pennsylvania as a whole, but Republicans carry many individual congressional districts, so that the change would work to their advantage.  In fact, because of the way Pennsylvania congressional districts are gerrymandered, a Democratic Presidential candidate could gain a majority of the state’s popular votes, while the Republican candidate got a majority of the electoral votes.

If it were up to me, I would have each state direct its electors to vote for the Presidential candidate who won a majority of the national popular vote.  But there is a certain rough balance in the present system.  Each state gets a vote in the Electoral College equal to its members of the House of Representaives and the Senate; that is, a number based on population plus two more.  Small states have more representation that their population warrants, but the winner-take-all system makes the large states more influential because a larger bloc of votes is in play.

If Pennsylvania gets rid of winner-take-all, this might be good for the Republican Party nationwide, but it would reduce the influence of Pennsylvania in national elections.  For this reason I don’t think the change is likely to happen.

The Founders would not like the present system nor either of the proposed changes I mentioned.  They didn’t believe in direct election of a President and thought political parties a great evil.  They would be appalled at our present system of nominating candidates.  The Founders’ idea was that we would choose the most prominent and respected citizens of our communities as electors, and these electors would then choose a President among themselves.

If we followed their intent, we would vote not for Presidential candidates, but for electors.  The names of Electoral College candidates would appear on the ballot without the name of a pledged candidate or political affiliation.  They would get a place on the ballot through some process other than nomination by a political party.

I don’t think this is likely to be adopted, either, but the results might be as good as under the present system.  Possibly someone might become President without spending years of their life and millions of dollars campaigning for the office.

Click on Pennsylvania Electoral College Plan Could Backfire on G.O.P. for Nate Silver’s on his Five Thirty Eight web log of the possible political ramifications of the Republican plan.

In Nebraska, Republicans are trying to change its system back to winner-take-all.  Barack Obama got one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes in 2008.  Click on How Important Is Nebraska’s Electoral Vote? for details.

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2 Responses to “Pennsylvania and the electoral college”

  1. John Smith Says:

    You said “If it were up to me, I would have each state direct its electors to vote for the Presidential candidate who won a majority of the national popular vote”. That shows your ignorance. We are a representative republic, not a democracy, If you want future presidential campains to center on NYC, LA and Chicago only, then keep thinking that way, Your approach would have candidates focus on 1% of the land area and to-hell with the rest of “fly over country”.


    • philebersole Says:

      Government should represent citizens and not acreage. In England, they once had what was called the “rotten borough” system, where a small number of landed aristocrats had greater representation that the people of a large city such as Liverpool. It took the whole 19th century to root that out.

      The U.S. Senate and the Electoral College are based on the principle of state sovereignty, which, I agree, overrides my principle of equal representation for all citizens. But that has nothing to do with basing representation on land area. Rhode Island has as many Senators as Texas.


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