As a squirrel, I tend to like things local. For one thing, I hate travel. For another, I know my way around the BPI main campus and its environs. It’s hard to get lost on a route as simple as “Left at the scraggly, right at the spindly, straight past the stumpy, left around the pond, right at the sappy, and up to the third branch.” Mrs. Squirrel and I went there last night, for our anniversary, to visit the tree where we met.
Those directions may seem odd to you, but if you’re a squirrel, and if you’re in your hometown, they’re easy. The point is, I know my local area. I know the resident faculty and staff, and most of the students on the main campus. I know the local squirrels. I know what our local problems are, and I know or can quickly learn who could help solve them. Humans seem to be the same way, and that’s why many of your most important issues are handled by your local government. Engaged citizens can have more influence in local government, and I like ideas that give power to the people.
So when I read that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi want to divide the state’s Electoral College votes by U.S. House districts – with the statewide winner getting the state’s other two electoral votes – I thought about it. That proposal would make local political work more important. A Democratic candidate might have no chance of winning a Republican state overall, but strong local Democratic groups might still pick up a few electoral votes. And vice-versa, of course.
It’s that last sentence that bothers me. Governor Corbett and Sen. Pileggi are Republicans, and Republicans took control of Pennsylvania’s state legislature last year. Pennsylvania lost a U.S. House seat after the 2010 census, so they’ll be redrawing district lines. Party politics being party politics, Republicans will try to draw those lines to favor Republicans. Assuming that tallied through into presidential voting, redistricting would mean more electoral college votes for Republicans.
Even if district lines didn’t change, splitting the electoral vote in Pennsylvania would favor Republicans, because the Democratic candidate won that state – and all of her electoral votes – in every election since 1992. That’s why Gov. Corbett proposed this for Pennsylvania, but no Republican governors have proposed it in states Republicans usually win.
Consider the 2008 election, where President Obama won an 365-173 Electoral College landslide. Dylan Henrich, a reader at TPM, built an Excel spreadsheet for the 2008 Electoral College vote assuming the states’ electoral votes split under the system proposed in Pennsylvania. Had every state split their electoral votes, President Obama would still have won, but the margin would have narrowed to 300-238.
But what if only the ‘blue’ states had split their electoral votes? John McCain would have picked up electoral votes in most of those states, as he carried some U.S. House districts. For example, he would have gained 10 votes each in Pennsylvania and Ohio, 12 in California, and 7 in North Carolina. Split the Electoral College vote in ‘blue’ states only – except Nebraska, as Nebraskans already split their electoral votes – and President Obama would have won by only 270-268. Close enough to flip the outcome with a handful of ‘lost’ votes, or a handful of voters blocked from the polls, in the tightest three districts.
The densest urban areas vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Every vote matters in a statewide popular vote, even the votes that give an urban district a 70% or greater Democratic majority. But in a split vote system, you’d rather have narrower majorities in more districts than wider majorities in fewer districts. Under the split electoral vote system, John McCain would have been the electoral vote winner in Florida (15-12) and Indiana (6-5) – and tied in Ohio (10-10) – despite losing all three of those statewide popular votes.
Republicans aren’t proposing this split vote system because they think it’s fairer, or because they think it gives local political groups greater influence. If those were their goals, they would propose it nationwide … including states Republicans usually win.
I like local government because it’s more about “power to the people.” But this system isn’t about that at all. It’s about “power to the Republicans.”
Good day and good nuts.