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Winner Wouldn’t Take All as Pennsylvania Republicans Eye Electoral Votes

Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to eliminate the winner-take-all system for electoral votes, a move that might boost their presidential candidate’s chances in a state that picked the Democrat in the past five races.

With the backing of Republican Governor Tom Corbett, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has proposed a plan, similar to ones under consideration in four other states, that would apportion 18 of Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes according to victory in congressional districts.

This would assure the Republican of some votes because of boundaries drawn to preserve party dominance, said Chris Borick, a political-science professor and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown. The move comes as Republicans across the country are fighting to tighten voting rules.

“They’re all motivated by the same agenda to increase Republican share and representation,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University and associate director of its Election Law @ Moritz center.

U.S. states have Electoral College votes equal to the number of their members of the House of Representatives, plus two for their senators. Forty-eight states grant all electoral votes to the statewide victor of the presidential race, who must claim 270 to win office. The nation’s founders created the system as a compromise between having Congress elect the president and having citizens do it directly.

Giving a Voice

Pileggi has argued that his proposal would more accurately reflect the will of Pennsylvania’s people.

Dividing votes proportionally is fair, so that people throughout the state are “able to weigh in,” Corbett told reporters in Philadelphia on Sept. 21. Corbett said he didn’t think there would be any guaranteed electoral votes.

Pileggi’s bill, which would hand out 18 votes by congressional district showing and award two to the overall statewide winner, is expected to have public hearings in October, said a spokesman, Erik Arneson. Republicans hold the majority in both chambers of the Legislature.

Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and South Carolina have bills pending that would change the winner-take-all system to one by congressional districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Similar measures failed in 30 states -- including Pennsylvania -- since 2001.

Grass Is Greener

Republicans in Nebraska, which along with Maine doles out electoral votes by congressional district, have proposed legislation to reverse that system to winner take all. In 2008, Nebraska’s electoral votes were split for the first time.

Both parties tried to change the rules when in the majority, said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote in Takoma Park, Maryland, which supports a national popular vote for president.

“There’s a frustration on the losing side and a realization where we can receive a majority of the electoral votes,” he said.

Although the Democratic candidate has won Pennsylvania for the past five presidential elections, it is still a swing state, said Borick at Muhlenberg. Because of the so-called gerrymandering of congressional districts, only about five may be competitive, he said.

“It takes our valued position as one of the key swing states out of the mix,” he said in a phone interview.

Fewer Blandishments

Presidential candidates, who wouldn’t be able to sweep the electoral vote, would be less inclined to promise actions that would benefit the entire state, said Tokaji at Ohio State University.

“It’s putting the interest of the Republican party over the interests of the citizens of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Corbett said the state will still be “key” in the election.

“It’s Pennsylvania,” he told reporters on Sept. 21. “They’re still going to advertise here.”

Pennsylvania may also require voters to show identification at the polls. Such a measure has passed Pennsylvania’s House and 34 states have considered similar plans, according to the NCSL.

Forty-seven states this year have enacted 285 election- related laws such as limiting early voting and requiring identification, and 60 percent were in states with Republican governors, according to the legislatures group.

“They have the power, they don’t know how long they’ll have it, and they’re looking to perpetuate that power,” said Tokaji.

To contact the reporter on this story: Romy Varghese in Philadelphia at rvarghese8@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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