ALLISON REILLY: Pennsylvania’s proposal to restructure the electoral vote is simply genius. I think that this restructuring would fix a lot of problems with the current electoral college system, while also fixing problems presidential elections as a whole.
If restructured, the electoral vote in Pennsylvania would work like this: Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes. Eighteen of those votes will be allocated to the winner of each of the 18 congressional districts. The remaining two will be given to the person who wins the statewide popular vote. So, n 2008, when Pennsylvania had 21 electoral votes, Sen. John McCain won 10 congressional districts to then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 9, but Obama won the state by 620,000 votes. Under this proposal, Obama would’ve gotten the two statewide electors, for a net win over McCain of one electoral vote.
This proposal is great for two reasons. First, this makes states much more competitive. Since the electoral votes are no longer a winner take all, both parties have something to gain for winning districts in various states. Therefore, those states that have reliable leaned red or blue now have something that’s up for grabs for both candidates. Sure, it might still be the case that in a red state, the Republican candidate will win those final two votes, but the Democratic candidate could campaign like hell in battleground districts, or in the districts that are reliably blue in reliably red states.
Second, this method would eliminate the “won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote scenario”. Since the person who wins the popular vote gets an extra two electoral votes from each state, it becomes worthwhile to win as many states as possible, not just a few key states. With the two additional votes, it would highly unlikely for someone to win the electoral vote without winning the popular vote as well. This way, the person who’s elected as president would be much more representative of what the American people want.
The Electoral College system needs changing, and until now, there hasn’t been many good solutions offered to reform (except perhaps elimination). I hope that this not only gets adopted in Pennsylvania, but in every other state in the Union as well.
JESSICA BADER: Aside from arguing that pitchers shouldn’t be considered in MVP voting, just about the quickest way to get me on my soapbox is to say something nice about the Electoral College. I think it’s ridiculous, that it depresses voter turnout (if your vote doesn’t really matter unless you live in a swing state, many people aren’t going to bother voting), and that it should be scrapped in favor of how we vote for pretty much any other elected office – the candidate with the most actual people voting for them wins, regardless of the geographic distribution of these people. You never hear anyone suggesting that, say, we should determine gubernatorial elections by giving a certain number of points to the candidate who wins each county, and the absurdity of that proposal should illustrate that the only real thing the Electoral College has going for it is status quo bias. Having gotten all of that out of the way, I have to say that the recent proposal by some Pennsylvania Republicans to allocate their state’s electoral votes by Congressional District (as is done in Maine and Nebraska) makes the current state of the Electoral College look good by comparison.
For all of the problems with the Electoral College, at least state borders aren’t redrawn every 10 years in a way that’s intended to benefit the party that holds the majority in Congress at the time. Pennsylvania, like most states where Congressional redistricting is in the hands of the legislature, is heavily gerrymandered in favor of the party that holds the majority during the redistricting process. Given that Democratic-leaning voters tend to cluster in densely populated urban areas, it’s easier for Republicans to do this, but any legislative majority with the power to do so is going to want to pack voters for the opposition into a few deep red or blue districts while making the rest light blue or red (this is how John McCain carried a majority of the Congressional districts in a state that Barack Obama won by 10 points).
As a hypothetical example, let’s imagine a state with 10 districts. Party A has control of the redistricting process and draws 2 districts that are dominated by Party B and 8 where they have a narrow lead. On Election Day, Party B wins the 2 packed districts 80-20 and Party A wins each of the other 8 districts 51-49. Assuming that turnout was equal in each district, Party B’s candidate wins 55.2% of the votes statewide. If this state follows Pennsylvania’s proposal, Party A’s candidate would win 8 of 12 electoral votes in a state its candidate lost by over 10 points.
In a universe where all states used the same method of allocating electoral votes and all states had independent, non-partisan redistricting, perhaps allocating electoral votes by Congressional district would be better than allocating them by state. In this universe, however, it’s a pipe dream. At the same time that Pennsylvania is moving towards this idea, one of the states that currently employs it is looking to scrap it. Nebraska Republicans, unhappy that Obama gained an electoral vote by carrying the Omaha-area district in 2008, have made moving back to a winner-takes-all allocation one of their top priorities. In practice, with each state setting its own rules, the incentive is for the current legislative majority to game the system in a way that makes it easier for a member of their party to become President.
The most logical solution is the one that we already use for almost every other office. If the popular vote is all that matters, the ability to turn out your base and persuade independents matters no matter where those voters reside. The vote of a resident of the projects in the South Bronx is equal to the vote of a rancher in northwest Texas is equal to the vote of a middle-class office manager in New Hampshire. Switching to a national popular vote system doesn’t systematically advantage either major party and encourages fighting for votes wherever they are.