National Republicans Support Pennsylvania Vote-Rigging Bill
A tear-stained idea we mentioned earlier this month as being in the memorandum stage — which would divide Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in future presidential elections by Congressional district — grew up this week and has become a full-blown bill. It was introduced Monday and its intent is to make sure your vote means less in 2016 than it ever has, because Republicans are tired of losing.
According to the bill’s single page of language (it’s co-sponsored by Reps. Godshall, Grove, Kauffman, C. Harris, Barrar, Emrick and Moul, all Republicans), in presidential elections, “Two of the presidential electors shall be elected at large to represent the entire Commonwealth and shall cast their ballots for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the greatest number of votes Statewide.” It goes on: “Each of the remaining presidential electors shall be elected in the presidential elector’s congressional district and shall cast a ballot for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the greatest number of votes in the congressional district.”
That means whoever wins the solid majority of voters in Pennsylvania during a presidential election automatically gets two at-large votes (represented by Sens. Casey and Toomey) of the state’s 20. The rest of the votes would be split by congressional district. In other words — and to reiterate what we’ve noted in the past — the Republican presidential candidate can very easily lose the popular vote and end up with more Pennsylvania electoral votes than the Democrat. That’s what would have happened in the 2012 election if the proposed rules had been in place.
After the 2010 elections, when Republicans took massive control of the House of Representatives (and many governorships and state legislatures), they were easily able to re-draw the boundaries of U.S. congressional districts according to the new census numbers — and according to their own preferences to make sure former “purple” swing districts would become blood-red by shuffling around Republican-heavy voting areas into districts where they’d have the most impact. That’s how a majority of Pennsylvanians voted for Democrats in our state’s U.S. House races, yet headed into 2013 with 13 Republicans and 5 Democrats representing us in Washington. (A new Republican State Leadership Committee report touts this strategy as a good thing.)
Let’s look visually at how this works. Figure 1, to the right, shows a county-by-county breakdown of partisan results in the 2008 presidential election, thus approximating geopolitical reality. (An even more nuanced version is available at The New York Times.) Figure 2, below it, is how the congressional districts were drawn in 2010 by the newly elected Republican legislature. See? Now all those Democratic votes contribute to the state total… but don’t have the same impact at the district level. The new Republican bill, in effect, would tear down the unified political impact of the state of Pennsylvania upon presidential elections in order to give piecemeal power to its (gerrymandered) individual districts.
A similar bill was introduced last year by State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, but was quickly removed from consideration (unofficially) when the state Republican Party decided it would be too controversial to so blatantly steal electoral votes during an actual election year — especially since they were already attempting to block the urban vote with new voter-ID rules. Well, it’s no longer an election year. And the reality is, Republicans can probably get this passed if they’re determined to. They have the numbers, the governorship — and, in that governorship, a highly partisan leader who went on record in support of the original 2012 version of the bill.
Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus has endorsed the idea. And no wonder: Nationally, Republicans have lost the majority of votes in five of the past six national elections. If every state adopted this legislation, Republicans would win the next presidential election easily; the gerrymandering they did in 2010 wasn’t unique to Pennsylvania. Several states, including Michigan and Ohio, experienced similar vote counts in the 2012 elections, with President Obama winning a majority of the state vote but a minority of congressional districts.
Democrats, for their part, aren’t taking it sitting down. During an “Ask Me Anything” chat on Reddit earlier this week, State Sen, Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) noted he has a plan to deal with this. Eventually.
“I have a bill on this,” he told Reddit user ‘Salacious,’ who asked him about how redistricting and gerrymandering could be resolved. “Creates a Commission with a super-majority needed to pass a plan. What’s unique about my plan is that it has a mathamatical [sic] formula whereby any district drawn has to fill in 15% of a circle around the district. This prevents districts shaped like salamanders, or the 7th Congressional District in PA, which makes a salamander look like a perfect circle.” Which makes sense. But that legislation wouldn’t be useful until after the 2020 elections.