After debuting with great fanfare, an RNC-backed scheme to rig the electoral college in blue states to favor Republican presidential candidates is looking mostly dead. But, to quote the Princess Bride, “there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.” Enter Pennsylvania, where an electoral vote bill is more than slightly alive.
State Senate president Dominic Pileggi (R) is pushing a plan to change Pennsylvania’s current winner-take-all allocation of the state’s 20 electoral votes to a system that apportions them proportionally by each candidate’s share of the statewide vote. Had it gone into effect before the 2012 election, President Obama would have won just 12 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 8. According to a memo Pileggi wrote debuting his new plan, the revamped system “much more accurately reflects the will of the voters in our state.”
Pileggi’s bill is slightly less far-reaching a power grab than bills proposed in states like Virginia that would have divided electoral votes by congressional district, which thanks to gerrymandering strongly favors Republicans even in states Obama won handily. This is by design: Pileggi pitched a congressional district split along the lines of the Virginia bill in 2011 only to face near-unanimous opposition from Republican members of Congress in the state who feared Democrats would pour millions of dollars into winning their individual districts. While Pileggi has shifted on the issue, a pair of Pennsylvania state representatives have also introduced a congressional split version since the election.
But the biggest difference that sets Pennsylvania apart is that each of the top leaders necessary to pass a bill have expressed support for changing its electoral college. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) strongly backed Pileggi’s 2011 effort. So did state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R), best known nationally for bragging that voter ID restrictions opposed by civil rights groups would help Romney win the state in 2012. By contrast, similar electoral vote bills elsewhere hit a wall this year after Republican statehouse leaders, key lawmakers, or governors indicated their opposition.
While none of Pennsylvania’s big top GOP leaders have come out against the latest bill, there is at least some evidence they may be a little warier of embracing it this time around. Even Pileggi’s office is downplaying it somewhat.
“This is not a ‘top 10’ or even a ‘top 20’ priority,” Erik Arneson, spokesman for Pileggi, told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month. “But he does think it is an important debate to have.” Arneson referred to TPM to the above statement when asked about the level of support for the Pileggi plan. Corbett, meanwhile, is “neutral” on the bill, according to his spokesman.
The question is whether these statements signal that Republicans want to avoid a raucous partisan debate over whether to effectively abdicate Pennsylvania’s longtime position as a swing state — or whether they’re saving it for later.
Democrats, who have raised concerns Republicans might try to ram a bill through before anyone could react, are trying to pressure Corbett to renounce his old position immediately.
“The proposed plan is a partisan scheme that diminishes the voice of Pennsylvania on the national stage.” State Sen. Jay Costa (D) told the Carbondale News on Wednesday. “Gov. Corbett needs to quickly, and unequivocally, reject this attempt to destroy a system that has served Pennsylvania well.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.