As John McCormack reports, some leading Pennsylvania Republicans are apparently flirting with the idea of changing the state’s method of allocating electoral votes from the usual winner-take-all method—the norm since the American Founding—to a method of allocating one electoral vote for each congressional district (with the remaining two votes going to the statewide winner). For a variety of reasons, this idea doesn’t deserve to get off the ground.
First, it would be nakedly partisan. To transform the most must-win competitive Democratic state on the map (it’s been more than 60 years since a Democrat won the presidency without Pennsylvania) into a checkerboard state that neither party could claim would be so transparently political that it would surely do lasting damage to the GOP not only in Pennsylvania but nationwide.
Second, it would render Pennsylvania essentially irrelevant in the presidential election. For all intents and purposes, the state would be a tie (or something close to it), with the other 49 states deciding the outcome.
Third, it would be a grossly unfair way of allocating electoral votes. If every state had previously adopted this method, then during the 2008 election (based on presidential election results by congressional district, as provided by the Swing State Project), John McCain would have won 6 of 11 electoral votes in Indiana (where Obama won the statewide vote by 1 percent), 15 of 27 electoral votes in Florida (where Obama won statewide by 3 percent), and 10 of 20 electoral votes in Ohio (where Obama won by 4 percent). In addition, McCain would have won 4 of 9 electoral votes in Colorado (where Obama won by 9 percent) and 10 of 21 electoral votes in Pennsylvania (where Obama won by 10 percent). (As John notes, the online news service Capitolwire gives the same tally for Pennsylvania.)
Pennsylvania voters likely wouldn’t have been too pleased if the candidate they preferred by 10 full percentage points had picked up only 52 percent of their state’s electoral votes, while the loser pocketed 48 percent. (This would have been about as bad as when Obama beat Hillary Clinton in the Missouri Democratic Primary and, thanks to the Democrats’ hyper-egalitarian way of allocating delegates, proceeded to claim his prize of 36 delegates to Clinton’s…36.)
Needless to say, none of this would be good for the Electoral College, one of the most valuable reminders of federalism; one of the best guarantees of a president with cross-sectional appeal; one of the greatest assurances that presidential candidates will spend time in, and will not neglect the will of, middle America; and (an underappreciated virtue) one of the best checks against a nationwide controversy over the winner. (Imagine if every vote had to be recounted by hand nationwide — because the popular vote was nearly tied — rather than merely in a few counties in, say, Florida.)
The Republican nominee needs to be able to win Pennsylvania the old fashioned way: by winning a majority of the votes.