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GOP Attack on Pa. Democracy

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In America, we don't elect our presidents directly. Each state elects representatives to the Electoral College, which technically "elects" our president. For 224 years, Pennsylvania has joined virtually every other state in casting all of its electoral votes for the presidential candidate who won the state's popular vote. This has always made Pennsylvania a critical state in national elections because of the number of electoral votes we deliver.

On Monday, Gov. Corbett endorsed changing our system. He wants to award one electoral vote to a presidential candidate for each congressional district he or she wins. This is an obscene, transparent, blatantly partisan change in the rules, designed to help Republican presidential candidates.

We should be suspicious any time one political party unilaterally tries to directly affect the outcome of future elections. Republicans in Harrisburg want to award electoral votes according to congressional districts because they are in control of the current redistricting process. They want to be able to decide how many votes to guarantee future Republican presidential candidates.

The redistricting process is likely to create 12 solidly Republican districts and six Democratic ones. This assures any Republican presidential candidate a clear majority of the state's electoral votes. This means that your vote in the presidential election will be meaningless.
This plan will also end Pennsylvania's status as a battleground state and will make us irrelevant to presidential campaigns. Why should candidates come here when we will already know what the final electoral vote count will be? It is distressing that our governor is pushing a plan to make Pennsylvania matter less in national politics.

Notice that Republicans in control of states that GOP presidential candidates usually win show absolutely no interest in changing their rules. We won't be seeing this proposal in Texas or Mississippi. It is only states that Republicans currently control, but which tend to vote Democratic in national elections, that will see the rules altered. Any change to our Electoral College should be adopted uniformly across the nation, with buy-in from both red and blue states so there is no effort to rig future elections.

The governor gives lip service to improving our electoral system, but this bill has nothing to do with good government. It is simply a partisan power-grab. If Corbett was really interested in improving Pennsylvania's electoral structure, he would support bipartisan proposals such as early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, or a national popular vote. But he opposes all of these.

Instead, the governor supports this bill, as well as additional legislation that would make it harder for people who disproportionately do not vote Republican to vote, such as requiring photo ID at the polls. This will disenfranchise millions of the poor, the elderly, and those who live in cities.

At times, Democrats have controlled the executive and legislative branches of state government. They could have passed anything they wished, and when it comes to substantive policy they often did. But nobody ever attempted to abuse their temporary control to fix future elections. As the prime sponsor of redistricting reform, I find it disheartening that this proposal will make gerrymandering an even more entrenched part of the system.

Elections in a democracy are sacred. Changing the rules created by our founders in order to benefit one political party is profoundly wrong. It desecrates our history and is a repugnant attack on the very core of our nationhood. Corbett's endorsement of this profanity brings to mind the famous words of Joseph Welch to Sen. Joe McCarthy during another attack on the basic structure of our democracy: "Have you no sense of decency?"

This post first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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