Of the many reforms I wish to see in the way elections are handled in the United States, one of the more important ones is assigning electoral college votes for Presidential elections as a percentage of the popular vote. In every state save Nebraska and Maine, Electoral Votes are assigned on a "winner take all" basis: whichever candidate receives more than 50% of the popular vote in the state receives all of the electoral college votes. However, in the Nebraska and Maine, electoral votes are assigned based on the percentage of the popular vote in a formula tabulated by the number of congressional districts plus the two senate seats (which is equal to the number of electors in each state). In the 2008 presidential election, John McCain won two out of Nebraska's three congressional districts. Barack Obama won the congressional district which included the city of Omaha. As such, McCain received four of Nebraska's five electors (the two "senate" votes still being tabulated as "winner take all") while Obama received one electoral vote.
It was recently proposed that Pennsylvania adopt such a system. From the Post-Gazette:
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi is trying to gather support to change the state's "winner-takes-all" approach for awarding electoral votes. Instead, he's suggesting that Pennsylvania dole them out based on which candidate wins each of the 18 congressional districts, with the final two going to the contender with the most votes statewide.
So far, the idea has received support from colleagues of the Delaware County Republican in the state House and from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But Democrats, who have carried the state in presidential contests since 1992, said the shift would erode Pennsylvania's clout.
Only two states -- Nebraska and Maine -- divide their electoral votes instead of giving the whole bloc to the candidate that wins the state's popular vote. Even for those two states, the piecemeal approach has been a rarity, with Nebraska historically dividing its five votes in the 2008 election, when one went to President Barack Obama.
If the multiple posts from PADems on Facebook are of any indication, the Democratic Party is having a collective bowel spasm over the idea that the swing state may become an ever harder prize to capture than it already is. This is understandable, but I've no doubt that if the same proposal were floated in Texas, the Republican Party would be suffering from the same nervous disorder.
While I've no doubt that Pennsylvania Republicans think they are doing something which will make it easier to win elections for their party (as Pennsylvania would be the first state with a sizeable number of electoral votes to divvy them up), in the long-term I suspect their plan will backfire. Meanwhile, as is par for the course of the Democrats, they are not only missing a major opportunity here, but actively shooting themselves in the foot.
The argument for assigning electoral votes by percentage - and rightly so - is that doing so reflects the will of the people. By opposing this in Pennsylvania, the Democrats are making themselves look like the party who wins by any means necessary, a title which has been proudly held by the Republicans. If the Democrats had any sense of strategy whatsoever, they would go along with this plan, but offer up the votes to pass the bill on the condition that 1.) it included a provision to implement instant run-off voting and 2.) it included an amendment to prevent voter ID laws from being passed. With these two caveats, the Democrats look like a party willing to compromise and allow positive government reform to happen. Republicans opposing these two amendments would look petty and obstructionist by comparison.
Regardless of what the Democrats in Pennsylvania decide to do, I support assigning electoral votes in Pennsylvania by percentage of the popular vote. Abolishing the electoral college and having a national popular vote would be ideal, however as the electoral college is enshrined in the Constitution, such an objective would be quite difficult to accomplish. Getting individual states to change the way electors cast ballots, by comparison, is much easier. I suspect that if Pennsylvania does implement the system used in Maine and Nebraska it will have a domino effect; it shouldn't take too many years for the Texas Republican Party to be sending desperate messages to their followers opposing electoral vote reform.