As far as the Constitution is concerned, each state is allowed to determine how it allocates its Electoral College votes. Most states hew to a winner-take-all system, but a few – Maine and Nebraska – allocate theirs by congressional district: your electoral vote total depends on the number of congressional districts you win, not your total vote share.
As Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann reports, Pennsylvania Republicans want to join the club as part of a partisan effort to add another obstacle to Barack Obama’s reelection efforts. Baumann covers the basics of the plan: Because of their hold on the governorship and the state legislature, Pennsylvania Republicans have complete control of redistricting. As a result, Pennsylvania will likely enter 2012 with 12 safe Republican congressional seats.
Barring a pro-Democratic electoral wave, this would almost guarantee 12 electoral votes for the Republican nominee, regardless of actual performance during the election. And because the Constitution delegates absolute power for allocating electoral votes to the states, there is nothing to stop lawmakers in other states from following suit – as Matthew Yglesias put it, “Republican state legislators can win the 2012 election tomorrow if they want to.”
In addition to the rank partisanship of it all, one of worst things about the Pennsylvania plan is that it would dilute the votes of African American voters. African Americans are a large share of the population, and under a winner-take-all system, they play an important part in determining the election outcome, despite the fact that they’re concentrated in a few urban districts. Under the Republican plan, the state’s rural voters – who are mostly conservative and overwhelmingly white – would have the most say over the distribution of electoral votes, due to the larger number of rural districts. In effect, the Republican plan for delivering Pennsylvania to the GOP nominee would also dilute the votes of black voters for as long as it remained in effect.
By and large, American politics is governed by norms about the proper conduct of political actors. Over the last several years, GOP lawmakers have moved at breakneck speed to destroy those norms. It wasn’t long ago when filibusters were rare, nominees were confirmed, and the debt ceiling was a routine administrative proceeding. Keeping things fair with the Electoral College used to be sacrosanct – a way to guarantee an even playing field at that ballot box. To today’s Republican Party, however, there’s no rule that can’t be broken for partisan gain.
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