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I Try to Be Cynical...

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Thumbnail image for Tom Corbett.jpgAs the malaprop-prone Gov. James Duff once told a reporter in Harrisburg: "There's nothing mysterical about the electrical college."

But, it looks the Republicans intend to make it mysterical.

Senate Republicans have suggested a do-over in the way we count Electoral College votes.  Instead of winner takes all, they want to apportion the vote by the state's congressional districts. The winner in each gets one vote with a two-point bonus for winning statewide.

Had this rule applied in 2008, Barack Obama, who won the state by a margin of 620,000 votes, would have gotten 11 electoral votes, while John McCain would have gotten 10.

How could Obama get so few votes while racking up such a big margin?

That's easy.  The state's congressional district tends to be either hyper-Democratic or hyper-Republican -- because they are drawn to be that way.

Gov. Tom Coma -- strike that -- I meant Gov. Corbett says he is in favor of the idea, mostly because it would help offset the huge pluralities Democratic statewide candidates tend to get in Philadelphia, where voter turnout is high.

Corbett misspoke.  Voter turnout isn't all that high in Philly.  We often lag behind the rest of the state in turnout.  But, Philadelphia is hyper-Democratic, regularly giving their party's statewide candidates huge share of their vote.

 

In 2008, for instance, Obama got 83 percent of the vote in Philly, compared to McCain's 16 percent and left the city with a margin of 478,000 votes.

That kind of super margin is hard for other (read: Republican) areas of the state to overcome. Add the tendency in the Philadelphia suburbs to vote Democratic (at least in statewide elections) and it gets harder and harder for, say, Republican candidates for President, to win the state. The last one to do so was George Bush I in 1988.

A big factor in Philly's vote is the propensity of black voters to go Democratic. In 2008, they gave Obama 98 percent of their vote. There were divisions in key black wards where McCain got only 1 or 2 votes.

The knee-jerk instinct is that the lopsided vote by blacks for Obama was because he is black. But, that's not the case. Blacks gave John Kerry 97 percent of their vote and Al Gore 98 percent.

Despite these disadvantages, Republicans can and do win statewide elections. Gov. Corbett or U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey can attest to that.

There are lots of arguments against this idea, not the least of which is that it proves how out-dated the Electoral College is as an idea. Presidential elections -- just as all others -- should be decided by the popular vote, not by electors. It inevitably -- though mercifully rarely -- makes us look like some banana republic, where the popular will is thwarted by a weird system of "electors."

The last time it happened was in 2000, when Al Gore beat George Bush by a margin of 534,000 votes nationwide, but lost because Bush (eventually) won Florida and got more electoral votes.

Another way to put it is that rather than tampering with the Electoral College, as Corbett and the Republicans seek to do, they should just blow the damn thing up. As the commentator below explains, that is something within the power of state legislatures to do. 

To change to the system favored by Republicans is, clearly and without much justification, an attempt to neutralize the Democratic proclivities of the Philadelphia region. In other words, it is partisanship in action.

To mention one other thing, I thought Republicans were supposed to be conservatives. Shouldn't they be reluctant to change the winner-take-all system, which has been in place since the founding of the Republic? And shouldn't they make a better case than "it seems like a good idea," or "we want to will dilute the influence of Philadelphia and the southeast"?

To me, it smells of an attempt to rig the outcome of the popular vote. It also is living proof of Lily Tomlin's observation: I try to be cynical but it is tough to keep up.

-- Tom Ferrick

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