If Pennsylvania’s Going to Assign Electoral Votes Proportionately, Why Not Members of Congress, Too?

In the middle of the week, with little attention still focused on his state’s politics, Pennsylvania State Senate Leader Dominic Pileggi floated an idea that would boost future Republican candidates. Why not split up the state’s electoral votes by proportion of the vote? It would, said Pileggi, “much more accurately reflect the will of the voters in our state.” It would have, coincidentally, handed eight electoral votes to Mitt Romney in a state he lost – as many electoral votes as he won in Kentucky.

Democrats groaned, because they’d heard this before. It’s been just one short year since Pileggi proposed (and debated) a bill that would have split up Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by congressional districts. Because those same districts were drawn by Republicans, that would have allowed Romney to win a slight majority of electors despite losing the state’s popular vote. (Democratic votes have mostly been packed into districts in the urban centers of the state.) The new proposal is marginally worse for Republicans, though still a boon, and it’s being proposed four whole years before another election, potentially avoiding the clusterfark that made the GOP-passed voter ID law so unpopular.*

It’s also an idea with no recent precedents. Two states divide up electoral votes by district; no states assign them proportionately. But there is a national campaign to replace congressional redistricting with proportional voting. The Maryland-based FairVote has spent some years lobbying states to replace districts with popular votes. Members of Congress would be chosen according to the votes their party got, similar to the way a lot of legislative districts and city councils choose their members. If, say, 52 percent of Pennsylvanians voted Democratic, and 48 percent voted Republican, Democrats would get 10 of Pennsylvania’s seats in Congress, and Republicans would get eight.

In the next Congress, Republicans will have 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats.

I asked Pileggi’s spokesman Erik Arneson whether the proposal to split up electoral votes proportionately might be expanded to congressional seats.

“It’s an interesting question,” he said, “but I have not heard any of discussion of that. I’m familiar with the group, but I have not heard of anyone who’s seriously introducing it in Pennsylvania. Certainly, we would listen to the pitch. I’m intrigued by the concept of who chooses who those ten people are. Where would they come from? Would the rural parts of the state be represented? I assume that group has thought through this.”

One of these proposals would have helped Republicans in 2012. One would have helped Democrats. Which one will attract the votes next year? The anticipation is killer.

*Voter ID laws usually poll at 70 percent or more. This year’s reforms in Pennsylvania and Minnesota actually backfired on the GOP; in the latter state, a successful ballot initiative struck down a possible ID law.