Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Change Pa.'s voting rules?
Local legislators resist proposals to alter state's Electoral College system Change Pa.'s voting rules? BY KAREN SHUEY, Staff Writer
Efforts are under way in Harrisburg to shake up how the state's electoral votes are distributed.
Republicans in Pennsylvania are pushing for changes to the Electoral College in an attempt to limit the success Democratic presidential candidates have enjoyed in the state.
Two proposals are being discussed that would drastically transform the current winner-take-all system, and they're getting little support from Lancaster County's state legislators.
Rep. Mike Sturla was one of a handful of Democratic lawmakers who blasted the proposals last week at a press conference.
"Whether you're a Democrat, Republican or independent, I don't think there is anyone who thinks cherry-picking policies for different states is good for democracy," he said.
The proposal facing the most opposition is part of a national GOP push to divvy up the states' electoral votes according to which candidate wins the popular vote in each congressional district.
The switch would have given Mitt Romney a majority of Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes last November, even though Obama beat him statewide by a popular vote margin of almost 310,000.
A state House measure, proposed by Republicans Robert Godshall, of Montgomery County, and Seth Grove, of York County, would award all but two of the state's electoral votes according to congressional district results. The remaining two would go to the candidate winning the statewide majority.
The legislation is similar to plans proposed by Republicans in other swing states.
The GOP maintains that Electoral College changes would give smaller towns and rural areas -- often overlooked in presidential races -- more say in battleground states.
Currently, two states, Maine and Nebraska, split their electoral votes the way the House bill proposes.
But the congressional district model isn't having much success branching out to new territory.
Republican leaders in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin have backed away from the idea.
And Rep. Bryan Cutler knows why.
"Ending the winner-take-all system could reduce Pennsylvania's relevance as a swing state," the Peach Bottom Republican said.
With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is one of the most attractive prizes in the nation. But most of its 16 congressional districts are either heavily Republican or heavily Democratic, so candidates would have little incentive to campaign on the possibility of gaining an electoral vote or two.
Cutler said he's aware that under the current system Romney didn't get any of the state's electoral votes, but that doesn't mean the system doesn't work.
"I think (Republicans) need to focus our energy on our message to get more voters," he said.
Rep. Gordon Denlinger offered the same view.
"The election should ultimately depend on which party has put forth the best candidate that can capture and connect with the public," he said.
The Narvon Republican agrees with Cutler there is nothing wrong with the current system, and that any change would at least appear politically motivated.
Sen. Mike Folmer has a different opinion.
He argues that changing the system could more accurately reflect the popular vote. Why should a candidate who carries a state with 51 percent of the vote get 100 percent of its electors?
That's why the Lebanon Republican supports legislation proposed by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi that would split 18 electoral votes based on the results of the statewide popular vote. The remaining two would go to the candidate winning the majority.
"You have people that go to the polls and their vote, essentially, doesn't count," he said. "I think it will help those that live in the red parts of the state feel like their vote matters."
Under Pileggi's plan, Romney would have won eight of the state's 20 electors.
Rep. Steve Mentzer said he might support Pileggi's plan because it more accurately reflects the votes cast in his district.
"It would give voters in areas like Lancaster County more incentive to get to the polls," he said.
Sen. Lloyd Smucker is waiting to hear all the details before he lends his support to either of the proposals. As the chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, the bills would eventually make their way to his desk for review.
"I have more of an obligation to really examine the impact of these bills and allow for additional debate before I take a position," the West Lampeter Republican said.
And it will most likely be a long time before the bills even get to that point.
"There are over 40 bills that have been referred to the committee so far this session, and this isn't a top priority," he said.
Rep. Mindy Fee said she isn't ready to back one plan over the other. She said she looks forward to the debate that is likely to take place.
"Our first responsibility is to make sure that every vote is counted equally, and if that means we need to re-evaluate our system, then we should," she said.
Sturla said Republican leadership is probably banking on the hope that the public doesn't find out what they're up to.
"Once the public is made aware of what the plans would do, it will be apparent that this is election rigging," he said.
The Lancaster city resident said he doesn't necessarily have a problem with any of the plans being discussed; the problem is that the change wouldn't be implemented nationwide.
"What (the Republicans) are trying to do is change the way they do things in the states that will benefit them," he said.
"If we want to make some changes to the system, it really should be a uniform change," he said.