Republicans in Pennsylvania are considering a proposal that would award 18 of the state’s 20 electoral votes to the winner of each of its congressional districts, leaving the remaining 2 to the winner of the state at large.
Had the proposal been in place in 2008, when Pennsylvania had one more electoral vote prior to reapportionment, Barack Obama would have carried only 11 of the state’s 21 electoral votes despite winning Pennsylvania by a 10-point margin.
Silver points out several ways the plan could backfire on Republicans in general and Pennsylvania Republicans in particular:
- First, it could actually deprive them of electoral votes if their nominee actually won the statewide tally in Pennsylvania, which is entirely plausible.
- Second, it would undermine the integrity of the electoral college as a whole, which could hurt the party. He poses a question: if Democrats "swept the statehouse in Texas one year, or in Georgia, or Missouri, what would stop them from adopting the Pennsylvania plan if this were the new normal?"
- Third, Silver cannot "think of many better ways to motivate these voters [Democrats] than to convince that Republicans are trying to steal the election, and remind them of what happened in 2000, themes that will become prominent should the Pennsylvania plan come to pass."
- Fourth, "Pennsylvania would effectively demote itself to something like New Mexico in the electoral pecking order — a state with five or six swing votes rather than 20. That means fewer favors from Washington, fewer visits from the candidates, less of a windfall for the state’s economy, and less face-time for its politicians."
- Finally, the plan could well become unpopular and thus hurt the legislators who voted for it.
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.)