By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania could become the nation’s first official “purple state.”
Arguing that it will more fairly represent the will of the people, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, said Monday he plans to propose a change that would award the state’s electoral votes proportionally, in place of the current winner-take-all method.
Pennsylvania will have 20 electoral votes for the next two presidential campaign cycles, in 2016 and 2020.
“This advantage of this system is clear: It much more accurately reflects the will of the voters in our state,” Pileggi said in a statement.
Pennsylvania would be the first state to award its electoral votes in such a way, though two votes would remain tied to the winner of the popular vote, according to Pileggi’s plan.
The winner of the statewide popular vote now receives all 20 of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
Maine and Nebraska are the only states that do not use a winner-take-all format for their electoral votes. Rather, they award the votes based on congressional districts.
In November, President Obama won 52 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania and captured all 20 of the state’s electoral votes en route to a 332-206 victory in the Electoral College.
In the proportional system proposed by Pileggi, Obama would have won 12 votes; Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have won eight votes.
The change would not have altered the outcome of the national election, but it would have reduced Pennsylvania’s significance for Obama from a 20-point victory to, effectively, a four-point victory, putting the state on par with states such as Idaho, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Pennsylvania Democrats quickly fired back at the proposal, calling it an attempt to change the rules for a partisan advantage less than a month after Republican candidates were soundly defeated in all five statewide elections.
“This is the ultimate sour grapes. After getting swept in statewide elections, Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to change the rules to help Republican politicians,” said Jim Burn, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
Bill Patton, spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said the proposal would “destroy the state’s significance in future presidential elections.”
Not so, according to Erik Arneson, Pileggi’s spokesman.
Making the state more or less competitive is “irrelevant to the goal of the bill, which is to align Pennsylvania’s votes more closely with the popular vote,” Arneson said via email.
Pennsylvania has backed the Democratic candidate for president in six consecutive elections dating back to 1992. Even so, it is still viewed by many observers as a potential “swing state,” and Republicans made a serious push to win the state in 2004, though they fell short by 2.5 percent.
Thirteen of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts are held by Republicans, furthering the view of the state as a potential swinger in presidential contests.
Terry Madonna, a pollster and professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College, said the idea to tie the electoral total was fairer than the current winner-take-all system.
“It more reflects the intention of the voters of the state,” he said. “On the downside, it reduces the state’s electoral importance.”
Madonna said he supports moving to a national popular vote system to replace the Electoral College entirely, but a proportional awarding of electoral votes would be as much of a step in that direction as individual states can realistically take.
If Pennsylvania is expected to be a solidly blue state going forward, giving Republicans the chance to win some of the electoral votes could make Pennsylvania more competitive in national elections, he said.
Pileggi sponsored a similar bill in the session that ended on the last day of November. That proposal would have awarded Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional district, with two votes being awarded for the statewide total.
The proposal attracted significant attention, but never moved out of committee.
Gov. Tom Corbett supported that plan, but spokesman Kevin Harley said Monday the administration has yet to take a position on the new proposal.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said the Senate and House have had no discussions on the proposal.
“If they propose it and it passes, we’ll take a look at it,” Miskin said. “Anything that brings the power of the vote back to the people is definitely worth a discussion.”
Contact Boehm at [email protected] and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.
— Edited by John Trump at [email protected]