Harrisburg Republicans Want to Rig PA’s Presidential Vote

Why Tom Corbett and company shouldn't mess with the Electoral College to boost the GOP candidate

After his victory in 1980, Ronald Reagan chose the best, the brightest—and make no mistake—the most politically powerful to fill his cabinet. In an acknowledgement to the Republican might of Pennsylvania (a state he won), he chose three cabinet officials from the same county! Drew Lewis (who fired the striking air traffic controllers), Alexander Haig and Richard Schweiker all hailed from Montgomery County.

In 1994, Pennsylvania was the most Republican state in the nation in terms of elected officials. The GOP controlled the two U.S. Senate seats, the governorship, the state legislature, all statewide row offices and a majority of the congressional delegation.

And in 2010, five congressional seats flipped to the Republicans, Tom Corbett trounced his gubernatorial opponent, the State Senate remained in GOP hands, and Republicans seized control of the State House with a 10-seat majority.

Yet the biggest prize of all has eluded the party for a quarter-century: a win for their presidential candidate. Not coincidentally, the southeastern counties, home to nearly half the state’s population, have trended Democratic in that timeframe, with the former-GOP strongholds of Delaware and Montgomery counties abandoning Republican nominees since 1988.

So it’s no surprise that leading Republicans, including Governor Corbett and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, have come up with a plan to change how the state’s presidential electoral votes are awarded. Under their proposal, one electoral vote would be allocated for each congressional district a presidential candidate wins, as opposed to the current system, which is winner-take-all.

We’ll get to the real reason behind this naked political ploy, but first, let’s look at why the plan is a bad idea:

1) It politicizes the election process in an unprecedented way: Congressional districts would be gerrymandered like never before, drawn by the party in power to suit its candidate’s needs in order to win the most districts. This is NOT what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they designed the system and most definitely puts the politicians ahead of the people. It’s supposed to be the other way around.

2) It sets the stage for the system to constantly change: Although labeled a plan offering “electoral fairness,” it is being pushed simply because the GOP now controls Harrisburg and wants to bolster the Republican nominee’s electoral total any way it can. Remember, the Democrats need Pennsylvania to win the White House, whereas the Republicans do not.

And since this change would be enacted by simple legislation, where does it end? If Pennsylvania Democrats regain control in 2014, and a Republican occupies the White House, would we then see the winner-take-all system come back into play? The electoral system in constant flux would only breed resentment and confusion, which could not come at a worse time.

3) It’s a wash on the national level: If enacted nationally, this system would ultimately be a wash, or even negatively impact the GOP. For example, Republicans would no longer win all of Texas’s 38 votes, perhaps only taking 25. Taking it even further, it is possible that in 2004, despite George W. Bush winning 31 states, he might have lost the election, since he only won the Electoral College with 16 votes to spare.

4) The system works as it is: It is not easy to pigeonhole the American people’s voting preferences. For example, Montana and North Dakota, both Republican states in most presidential elections, have Democratic senators, as did solidly Republican Georgia a short time ago. Indiana, with a GOP governor and legislature, has gone Democrat for president only once since 1940—but that changed in 2008. Obama also won the typically GOP states of North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Missouri. Yet the Republicans are darn close to winning the traditionally progressive states of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Bottom line: Voting patterns are not set in stone. The more competitive elections are, the more engaged the electorate. The Electoral College works, so why mess with a good thing?

5) It all comes down to having good candidates who can articulate a message with charisma and passion. When Republicans instead coronate those whose “turn it is,” they get clobbered. Bob Dole and John McCain are prime examples. Neither had any business being the presidential nominee. Not much has changed, as the GOP is in total disarray heading into what many Republicans call the most important election in history. The truth is, there are only two candidates capable of winning the nomination, both of whom carry tremendous baggage. Yet McCain, the party’s patriarch, just stated, ““We have the deepest bench in the Republican Party now that I have ever seen.” And that says it all.

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The GOP’s demise in the Keystone State can be attributed to two things: the lack of quality candidates and the colossal failure of leadership. Fix both, and Republicans win the state—and the White House. But the electoral system shouldn’t be changed just because the entrenched Business As Usual GOP hierarchy is the poster boy for incompetence.

The combination of running untenable candidates, valuing insider contracts and solicitorships over issues, and choosing laziness over grunt work has caused it to lose huge chunks of the political landscape.

There has been little effort to groom candidates, and absolutely no initiative to stop the hemorrhaging from Philadelphia, where Republican statewide candidates routinely face half-million vote deficits. As a result, the Party is in the strange position of sitting on massive gains from the tidal wave of 2010, but taking a pass on challenging vulnerable Democratic Senator Bob Casey. The GOP leadership doesn’t seem to realize that the big swings in 1994 and 2010 were not mandates for the Republicans per se, but a demand that real solutions be enacted to solve monumental problems.

When Republicans talk about the issues, they win—and win big. President Reagan innately understood that, which is why he won 44 and 49 states, respectively, with massive Electoral College victories. Even George H.W. Bush learned that lesson, as he too galloped to victory with 40 states and 426 electoral votes.

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Thirty years ago, when someone moved into the Philadelphia suburbs, they were always greeted (usually within a week) by the local Republican committeeman. The conversation went something like this, “Oh, I see you moved here from the city. Well, we have safer streets, better schools, and lower taxes—because our municipality and county are run by Republicans. Here is a voter registration card. I’ll be back in a few days to see how we can work together.”

That recruiting effort built the GOP into a well-oiled machine, and the county organizations could be relied upon to deliver for national and statewide candidates.

But all that ended, and with it, the GOP’s dominance. Issues gave way to power trips and petty infighting, the party lost its energy and brand. Now, door-knocking and personal visits are virtually non-existent. And the numbers illustrate that failure: In the largest Republican wave since 1946, neither Tom Corbett nor Pat Toomey won Delaware County or Montgomery County. Given that the GOP isn’t making the necessary changes, it’s a good bet that trend will continue, with Obama and Casey again winning the state.

Republican woes aside, letting the genie out of the bottle by fundamentally altering the hallowed electoral system established by our Founding Fathers—one that has served us so well—for short-term political gain is anathema to everything uniquely American.

The folks pushing this change should look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are truly the leaders they purport to be. If so, they should abandon this foolhardy plan and seize the day, winning the hearts and minds of the electorate the old-fashioned way—through hard work.

The Founding Fathers knew a thing or two about how government works best. Honoring them by not punting a good thing is the least we should do.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all 50 states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller Catastrophe. Freind also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]