Hot off the presses from Bloomberg News is a major Electoral College development. Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has circulated a letter to his legislative colleagues seeking support for a bill to replace the winner-take-all allocation of his state’s Electoral College votes with one based on proportional representation – with two electoral votes going to the winner of the state and 18 votes allocated proportionally. The proposal is sure to trigger an intense partisan reaction. Pennsylvania Republicans often come close in presidential elections, but last won an electoral vote in 1988 when George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Yet if Sen. Pileggi’s plan had been in place this year, President Barack Obama’s 5.4% win in the statewide popular vote would have translated into his earning 12 electoral votes rather than 20, while Gov. Mitt Romney would have won eight electoral votes rather than zero. Shifting eight electoral votes in Pennsylvania would have provided a bigger boost to Romney than switching the outcome in Iowa.
FairVote took a position against this change in October 2011, when we were invited to submit testimony to a Pennsylvania state legislative committee that was examing Sen. Pileggi’s then-proposal to divide electoral votes by congressional district. In my testimony, I compared the state’s winner-take-all Electoral College allocation rules to congressional district allocation, proportional allocation and the national popular vote plan. I drew on our important report looking at how district allocation and proportional allocation might work nationwide, Fuzzy Math: Wrongway Reforms for Allocating Electoral Votes.
Sen. Pileggi’s shift to advocating proportional allocation may be designed to maintain calm among the state’s Republican House Members. When the district plan was proposed in 2011, several publicly opposed the plan, apparently worried that intense activity in some districts to swing an electoral vote might put them at risk. Whether that fear was justified, it’s certainly true that going to proportional allocation would almost certainly eliminate any concentrated political activity in the state. It’s an expensive, big state in which to campaign when at most three electoral votes might be in play.