Tinkering with the Electoral College to…help Republicans?

Pennsylvania Republicans are working on a plan that’s as mischievous as it is completely legitimate: apportioning its electoral votes by congressional district instead of the current winner-take-all system. Under the new system, a presidential candidate would receive an electoral vote for each congressional district he or she (but let’s be honest — this year, it’s going to once again be a he) wins, plus two more if he wins the statewide vote count. For example, since John McCain won ten out of Pennsylvania’s 19 districts in 2008, he would receive 10 electoral votes, instead of the zero he took home under the state’s current system. Obama would have received 11 electoral votes — 9 for the congressional district he won, plus two for winning the state — instead of the 21 he was awarded.

Pennsylvania, like every other state, is free to dole out its electoral votes however it wants. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature as well as the governorship, so if the GOP wants to switch over to a congressional-district apportionment system, all the Democrats can really do is whine.

Interesting push that I didn’t totally understand at first, and still don’t unless this is a conspiracy, which I will get to in a moment. The part that doesn’t make sense is that even though PA has been won by the Democrats in the past 5 elections, the Republicans have campaigned there every time with legitimate hopes to capture it. In theory it is a “swing state” because the margin of victory is thin enough to change over, it just never happens that way. So if the Republicans think they could actually swing the state to their direction, why would they want to change the winner-take-all rule RIGHT when it could benefit them? Further: the extra few electoral votes under this system wouldn’t have changed the outcome of any of the recent elections, so whats to be gained by Republicans by doing this?

That’s when the conspiracy comes in: What if other states that have gone Democrat in presidential elections for the past few rounds but are now controlled by Republican Governors and Republican state congresses did the same thing? Such states are Michigan and Wisconsin, which dont have many Republican voting districts but if the trend continues – who knows?

Below is the electoral map based on Congressional-district apportionment (Red = Republican. Blue = Democrat).

As for Democrats retaliating by doing the same in traditionally Republican voting states? Not so much…

The only states that John McCain won where Dems control both houses of the state legislature are Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia. West Virginia is too small for splitting the electoral votes to have much effect, and Mississippi has a Republican governor. That leaves Arkansas, another small state — and one where McCain won every district handily in 2008.

No matter how you slice it, splitting up according to districts helps Republicans since Democrat districts are more solid-democrat than Republican districts are solid-republican. I know this from living and traveling across the country: there are far more areas where you can bet large amounts of money on picking a person at random at knowing for certain they will lean Democrat and hardly anywhere in the country where the same is true for Republicans. Even the most conservative areas of a fiery red state still has plenty of democrat influence. As Michael Barone of the conservative American Enterprise Institute wrote last year:

[I]n 2004 John Kerry won 80% or more of the vote in 19 congressional districts, while the number of congressional districts in which George W. Bush won 80% or more was zero. Similarly and even more starkly, in 2008 Barack Obama won 80% or more of the vote in 28 congressional districts, while the number of congressional districts in which John McCain won 80% or more was zero.

Normally I am not one for conspiracies but this one just might be hatching… Stay tuned…