Nervous Pennsylvania GOP House Members Kill Electoral College Change

Philadelphia, Pa.—A few weeks ago, a proposal before the Republican-controlled state legislature that would change the apportionment of Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes for President from winner-take-all statewide to winner-take-all by congressional district, (and awarding two votes to the candidate who carries the state) seemed headed for easy passage and the signature of GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.

Although joint House-Senate legislative hearings on the electoral vote proposal were held in October, backers were lukewarm in voicing their support and signs are now strong the measure will not make it out of committee for a vote by Thanksgiving.  Several sources told HUMAN EVENTS that the Keystone State’s 12 publican U.S. representatives suddenly became nervous about any possible danger to their re-elections that the change in electoral vote apportionment might pose and then sent word to state legislators to “cool it.”

“A lot of Republicans got behind this change because it looked like it might work to the benefit of their nominee for President,” Philadelphia attorney James W. Baumbach, seasoned political operative and a top advisor to the late Mayor Frank Rizzo, told HUMAN EVENTS Wednesday.  “Had what they were considering been the law in ’08, Obama would have gotten only 11 electoral votes instead of the 21 he got by carrying the state.  And McCain would have gotten 10 electoral votes.”

But, Baumbach added, “Some of the Republican congressmen suddenly started to worry about unintended consequences.  They worried that because under the new system Democratic money would be spent in each of the districts they thought they could carry rather than in major media-market TV buys, this would actually mean the Democratic presidential nominee would pour resources into swing congressional districts, all of which are held by Republicans. 

“So the Republican congressmen are telling the Republican legislators to let go of this thing.” 

At the last meeting of the Republican State Committee, a number of members were outspoken in their opposition to the electoral vote change, and, having previously said he would sign the change if it passed the legislature, Gov. Corbett now says he has other priorities, such as a school voucher proposal before the legislature.  (A recent Quinnipiac University Poll shows that by a small margin, 52% to 40%, voters prefer the present winner-take-all Electoral College system rather than the winner-by-congressional district proposal). 

An aide to one of the GOP House members from the Keystone State who requested anonymity told us that the Republican congressional delegation “has met to discuss the Electoral College plan.  They understand the merits of the plan, but they are concerned about unintended consequences.”

‘This Makes No Sense At All!’ 

“Don’t give me that!” fumed one cynical conservative in Washington DC when we mentioned the concerns of the Republican House members about their re-election potential.  “Why couldn’t the Republican congressmen in safe districts start raising money to unseat Democratic congressmen in other districts?  This makes no sense at all!”

In Pennsylvania, however, it does seem to make sense.  In contrast to the seven Democratic U.S. House members in safely Democratic districts, eight of the 12 Republican Pennsylvania House members from are districts considered marginal (including all five of the freshmen elected in 2010). With the state losing one of its current 19 House Districts under redistricting, three-term Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire’s Western Pennsylvania district is expected to be merged with that of a fellow Democrat, freshman Rep. Mark Critz in what is being called “a Democratic ghetto. 

The concept of awarding electoral votes by congressional district has been around since the 1950s, when it was introduced in federal legislation by Republican Sen. Karl Mundt (S.D.) and GOP Rep. Frederic Coudert (N.Y.) as a way of fighting the liberal push for direct popular election of President.  The states of Maine and Nebraska have long used this system for awarding their electoral votes.  Many believe that the move to change Pennsylvania’s electoral vote apportionment was a proper Republican response to polls showing nationwide voter dismay over the present Electoral College system since the Bush-Gore 2000 election fiasco and the recent move by several states with Democratic governors and legislatures to opt for a system of giving their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.

    For now, however, signs are strong that electoral vote-by-district will not be taken up or even debated by the Republican legislators who originated the idea in Pennsylvania and, for that, the blame (or credit) must go to some nervous Republican congressmen.