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Pennsylvania GOP Leader Proposes Changing State's Electoral College Votes

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Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) wants to change the way the state allocates its Electoral College votes. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)
Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) wants to change the way the state allocates its Electoral College votes. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)

WASHINGTON -- The Republican leader of the Pennsylvania state Senate plans to introduce legislation this month that would change how the state allocates its Electoral College votes. The shift would have awarded GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney a few extra votes and, according to the state lawmaker, better reflected popular will.

The proposal by state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R), as outlined in a memo to his colleagues, would distribute Pennsylvania's electoral votes proportionally, based on the popular vote. In the 2012 election, President Barack Obama received all 20 of the state's votes in the winner-take-all system. But under Pileggi's plan, Obama -- who captured 52 percent of the popular vote -- would get only 12 votes; he would receive 10 out of 18 awarded proportionally, plus another two for winning in the state.

"This advantage of this system is clear: It much more accurately reflects the will of the voters in our state," Pileggi said in his memo, which was reported on by the New Castle News.

Pileggi's proposal is different from the changes being pushed in some other swing states run by GOP legislators. Those plans would allocate Electoral College votes based on which candidate wins in congressional districts, while Pileggi's plan would tie them directly to the popular vote.

Last session, the Senate majority leader did introduce a bill based on the congressional-district model, but changed tactics after hearing concerns from people in the state. His spokesman, Erik Arneson, told The Huffington Post that some objected to the entire redistricting process, while some other party leaders were concerned how it could affect down-ballot races.

Currently, nearly every state awards its Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who captures a majority of the popular vote across the entire state. Only Maine and Nebraska allocate an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, with the final two votes going to the person who wins the popular vote statewide.

But Republicans in some swing states now want to be more like Maine and Nebraska.

Obama won the popular vote in such swing states as Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio in 2012. Yet through heavy-handed redistricting and even gerrymandering, the GOP-controlled legislatures in those states had ensured that most of their congressional districts were strongly Republican. So if the GOP plan to award votes based on congressional districts had been in effect, Obama could have been chosen by the majority of the states' residents but lost the majority of their electoral votes -- and the election -- anyway.

Pileggi's plan would not have handed Pennsylvania to Romney, but it would have given him extra electoral votes.

The issue gained traction nationally when Republicans in the Virginia state Senate recently attempted to push through similar changes. That plan appears dead for now, as both Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and a couple of Republican lawmakers have said they are opposed to it.

Pennsylvania and Virginia have both introduced legislation to change their Electoral College votes in every session since 2000, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What many Democrats see as the problem with changes to electoral allocations is that they are being pushed mainly in swing states that Obama won and are controlled by Republican governors and state legislatures. Therefore, any shifts toward proportional allocation would now benefit Republican candidates.

There is a proposal, called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, that would allay the concerns of some Democrats. It would tie the presidential election to the votes of the public, but would not take effect until there are enough states signed on to the compact (enough to form a majority in the Electoral College).

Arneson told HuffPost that Pileggi does not want to get rid of the Electoral College and therefore does not support the National Popular Vote movement. When asked about the fact that changing the rules piecemeal could benefit Republicans, he insisted Pileggi was not motivated by partisan politics.

"We'd welcome 49 other states to take the same approach, but we only have a limited sphere of influence," he said.

So far, Arneson said, Democrats have not exactly rushed to embrace the Senate majority leader's proposal.

"Some people are very invested in the status quo and have no interest in changing it," he said. "I think it's fair to say most of the feedback we've received from Democratic members at this point falls into that category. There are others who want to see something different, but they're not entirely sure whether it's this or the national popular vote or some other alternative."

The Pennsylvania League of Women Voters told the New Castle News that it does not support Pileggi's plan and would rather see a nationwide push for the national vote.

Arneson said that the electoral proposal is not a "top priority" for Pileggi. Rather, Arneson said, "he views it as an important idea to discuss as part of the ongoing debate about the Electoral College and whether it should be changed or even eliminated.”

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