Though Pennsylvania has voted Democrat in every presidential election for the past two decades and President Barack Obama won the state 55-44 in 2008, a Republican legislative tactic could cost him a 2012 victory there even if he wins the state's popular vote. Pennsylvania's Republican leadership is taking advantage of a perfect storm of redistricting and electoral reform that may spell trouble for Obama in 2012.
Republican legislators in the state have proposed a change in the way its 20 electoral votes are distributed. Washington, D.C. and 48 states, Pennsylvania included, currently use the traditional winner-takes-all approach, allocating all electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state's popular vote. For 2012, Pennsylvania is considering a plan to allocate one vote to each of its 18 congressional districts. Win one district, win one electoral vote, and so on. The remaining two votes would go to the statewide winner of the popular vote.
Pennsylvania Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Republican plan was "a disturbing effort to put their self interests and party interests ahead of the people."
The state's governor, as well as the majority of the congressional delegation, are Republicans. Because the 2010 Census results determined that the Keystone State will drop from 19 districts to 18, the Republicans are in charge of redrawing the map — likely in their favor.
Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, told Mother Jones that the results of this move were likely to be dramatic.
"This would effectively extend the effect of gerrymandering beyond Congress and to the Electoral College," Fiddler said. "State legislatures could gerrymander the Electoral College."
Currently, 12 Republicans and seven Democrats fill the state's House seats. In 2012, the expected balance is 12 Republicans and six Democrats. That means if the GOP-led districts vote for the Republican presidential candidate and the remaining Democrat districts vote for Obama, 12 electoral votes would go for the Republican candidate and six for Obama. The kicker is that mathematically, Obama could win the popular vote but still only win the Democratic-leaning districts, meaning he would come out with eight votes to the Republican candidate's 12, despite winning the majority of the state's votes.
Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale University constitutional law professor, told Mother Jones that if other states followed Pennsylvania's example, the electoral game could change completely. The two states that currently use the divide-and-conquer system for electoral votes, Nebraska and Maine, rarely see split votes and don't carry many electoral votes.
"This is not American fair play, it's a partisan steamroller changing the fundamental rules of the small-d democratic game for purely party advantage," he said. "Trying to structure the world so that even the person who wins the state loses the state's electoral vote: that is new under the sun. This is big."