December 2012, Week 1


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Fri, 7 Dec 2012 23:27:13 -0500
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GOP Resurrects Plan to Rig Electoral College

     After Romney got walloped on November 6,
     Republicans want to change how electoral votes are

By Nick Baumann 
Dec. 7, 2012

In September, top Pennsylvania Republicans shocked the
nation by proposing a change to the state's election
rules that would have rigged the Electoral College in
favor of Mitt Romney. Facing a nationwide backlash, the
state's GOP backed down—but not before Wisconsin
Republicans considered a similar plan. With the old
rules still in place, President Barack Obama won a
332-206 electoral college victory over Romney.

But now that Romney has been defeated, prominent GOPers
are once again mulling rule changes that could make it
harder for Democrats to win the White House—and easier
for Republicans to claim Electoral College votes in
states where they lose the popular vote.

Remember, the presidential election isn't a nationwide
contest, it's a state-by-state fight, with each state
worth a certain number of electoral votes (the District
of Columbia gets 3, too). There are 538 electoral votes
total; if you win 270 or more, you're headed to the
White House—even, as George W. Bush can assure you, if
you don't win the popular vote. The Constitution allows
each state to allocate electoral votes however it
wants, but in every state except for Nebraska and
Maine, the contest is winner-take-all. If you get the
most votes in Pennsylvania, you get all of its
electoral votes.

Republicans want to change that. On December 3, Dominic
Pileggi, the powerful Republican majority leader of the
Pennsylvania state Senate, announced that he plans to
introduce legislation that would change how the state
allocates its electoral votes. This shouldn't be a
surprise: Pileggi was one of the Pennsylvania
politicians behind the preelection plan to change
Electoral College rules.

Before the election, Pileggi's plan (backed by a
mysterious dark-money group called All Votes Matter)
was to allocate electoral votes by congressional
district, with the winner of each district receiving
one electoral vote and the statewide winner getting a
two-electoral-vote bonus. That might not seem like a
big deal. But Pennsylvania, like other blue states in
the upper Midwest, was subjected to a very effective
Republican gerrymander after the 2010 midterm
elections. Republicans won 13 of its 18 districts in
2012, so if Pileggi's preelection plan had been in
effect, Obama could have been awarded as few as 7 of
Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, despite winning the

Pileggi's postelection scheme has a new twist. Instead
of awarding electoral votes by congressional district,
it would award them in relation to the statewide
popular vote, with a two-electoral-vote bonus for the
winner. That would prevent blatantly undemocratic
effects like a candidate losing a state's popular vote
but still winning its electoral votes. But it would
still have a similar effect to Pileggi's earlier
idea—it would ensure that at least some of
Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, which have gone to
Democrats in every election since 1992, would go to
Republicans. In a close election, that could change the

Pileggi has said his new plan "much more accurately
reflects the will of the voters in our state." (He did
not respond to a request for comment.) Dems say that
misses the point. "The Republican Legislature has been
brutally honest about wanting to move Pennsylvania into
the Republican column," says Daniel Roth, a spokesman
for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee,
which works to elect Dems to state legislatures. "They
wouldn't be doing this if Pennsylvania had gone
Republican in the past six elections. This is clearly
an attempt to move electoral votes to the Republican
column because they know they cannot win the state."

Roth has a point: The states where Republicans have
proposed changing Electoral College rules—Pennsylvania
and Wisconsin, where legislation has been introduced,
and Michigan and Ohio, where activists have pushed the
idea (see below)—went for Barack Obama in both 2008 and
2012. There are no such GOP proposals, for example, in
deep-red Texas.

Jim Burn, the chair of the state Democratic party,
called Pileggi's plan "the ultimate sour grapes" in a
statement posted to the party's blog. "After getting
swept in statewide elections, Pennsylvania Republicans
are trying to change the rules to help Republican
politicians…They are again trying to pass a bill that
changes the rules simply to benefit Republican
politicians who have been rejected by the majority of

Pileggi isn't the only GOPer mulling a change to
Electoral College rules after Obama's victory. At a
conference last month, John Husted, Ohio's Republican
secretary of state, said the state could make its
elections less controversial by awarding its electoral
votes by congressional district. Since Ohio, like
Pennsylvania, has a congressional district map that was
gerrymandered by Republicans, this idea, if in effect
in 2012, would have handed the majority of the state's
electoral votes to Romney. But Husted, it seems,
misjudged what would make Ohio elections less
controversial—after national attention, he backed off
his comment, saying he wasn't "advocating" a change,
just speaking theoretically.

At the National Review's influential blog The Corner,
Rich Lowry was similarly cautious when mooting the idea
of Electoral College changes that could boost
Republicans' hopes. "A friend sends along this e-mail.
I post it, not as an endorsement but to encourage
discussion," Lowry wrote, introducing a long email
endorsing awarding electoral votes by congressional
district. "From a political perspective, we simply
cannot allow the Democrats to have 220 electoral votes
in the bag every single election," Lowry's friend
wrote. "That's the road to being a permanent minority
party." The solution? Change the rules.


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