Pennsylvania’s Electoral Vote by Congressional District Proposal

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.

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4 Responses to Pennsylvania’s Electoral Vote by Congressional District Proposal

  1. kohler says:

    Republican legislators seem quite “confused” about the merits of the congressional district method The leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party just adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their congressional district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support. While in Pennsylvania, Republican legislators are just as strongly arguing that they must change from the winner-take-all method to the congressional district method.

    Dividing Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system and not reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania.

    The district approach would provide less incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in all Pennsylvania districts and would not focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state as a whole. Candidates would have no reason to campaign in districts where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Due to gerrymandering, in 2008, only 4 Pennsylvania congressional districts were competitive.

    In Maine, where they award electoral votes by congressional district, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored)

    In Nebraska, which also uses the district method, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) 2/3rds of the state were irrelevant.

    When votes matter, presidential candidates vigorously solicit those voters. When votes don’t matter, they ignore those areas.

    Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. 88% of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

    Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in third party candidates winning electoral votes that would deny either major party candidate the necessary majority vote of electors and throw the process into Congress to decide.

    Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President. “

  2. kohler says:

    A survey of 800 Pennsylvan­ia voters conducted on December 16-17, 2008 showed 78% overall support for a national popular vote for President.
    Support was 87% among Democrats, 68% among Republican­s, and 76% among independen­ts.
    By age, support was 77% among 18-29 year olds, 73% among 30-45 year olds, 81% among 46-65 year olds, and 78% for those older than 65.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, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states wins the presidency.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state and district (in ME and NE). Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

    With National Popular Vote, elections wouldn’t be about winning states or districts (in ME and NE). No more distorting and divisive red and blue state and district maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed iin recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO– 68%, IA –75%, MI– 73%, MO– 70%, NH– 69%, NV– 72%, NM– 76%, NC– 74%, OH– 70%, PA — 78%, VA — 74%, and WI — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE –75%, ME — 77%, NE — 74%, NH –69%, NV — 72%, NM — 76%, RI — 74%, and VT — 75%; in Southern and border states: AR –80%, KY — 80%, MS –77%, MO — 70%, NC — 74%, and VA — 74%; and in other states polled: CA — 70%, CT — 74% , MA — 73%, MN – 75%, NY — 79%, WA — 77%, and WV- 81%.

    Come the end of voting on Election Day, most voters don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans consider the idea of the candidate with the most popular votes being declared a loser detestable. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislativ­e chambers, in 21 small, medium-sma­ll, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), CA (55), VT (3), and WA (13). These 9 jurisdicti­ons possess 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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