Popular vote should determine presidential elections

Credit: Greg Hanneman/Contributing Editor Credit: Greg Hanneman/Contributing Editor
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The next 13 months are going to be a contentious time in politics. Not only do we have to elect a president, but it seems we also have to figure out how.

Republican Dominic Pileggi, the majority leader in the Pennsylvania state Senate, sponsored a bill last month to award Pennsylvania’s electoral votes individually, to the winning presidential candidate in each of the state’s Congressional districts, rather than by the traditional winner-takes-all method. Some state Republicans, including Governor Tom Corbett, are voicing their support for the measure.

It’s not difficult to see why. Pennsylvania awarded its full 21 electoral votes to Democrat Barack Obama when he won the state’s popular vote in 2008. If Pileggi’s method had been in effect then, Obama’s total would have been reduced to 11, leaving the remaining 10 for Republican challenger John McCain. In these partisan times, any scheme that would turn a 21–0 Democratic shutout into an 11–10 near tie is music to GOP ears. Just as obviously, Democrats are lining up against the proposal, using as their excuse that it would decrease Pennsylvania’s importance as a swing state in national elections and funnel away campaign spending.

Dividing Pennsylvania’s electoral votes by Congressional district, no matter how sensible the idea seems on the surface, is nothing more than a political ploy. Republicans proposed and support the method; they also — surprise — control the process that will determine the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts for the next three presidential elections. These districts are already heavily gerrymandered, and giving GOP mapmakers extra motivation to push and pull the lines just right shows a preoccupation with politics, not with representing the will of the state’s voters more accurately.

If our state legislators really wanted to represent vote tallies more accurately, they’d sign on to an initiative like the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under the terms of the compact, member states pass laws allocating their own electoral vote totals to the winner of the nationwide popular vote. The changes take effect when enough states to represent a majority of the Electoral College sign on, thereafter guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate receiving the most votes nationally. So far, the compact has the support of eight states plus Washington, D.C., taking it to 132 of the 270 electoral votes it needs in order to become active. Pennsylvania’s 20 votes would be a significant addition.

Lawmakers who want fair and accurate vote counting should know that one vote per person — equally counted regardless of state, Congressional district, county, or otherwise — is about as fair and accurate as you can get. We already have enough to fight over without worrying about how and when our votes matter.