GOP electoral plan would dilute minority power in Pa., Dems say

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D.,Phila.) and two civil rights leaders Thursday teed off on Republican legislation to award Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes proportionally in future presidential elections, arguing that the move would reduce the influence of Latino and African American voters in the state.

It also would benefit the GOP, whose nominee has lost the state in each of the past six presidential elections.

“They tried to suppress the vote last year with burdensome Voter ID laws and now they want to rig the Electoral College to dilute the strength of traditionally Democratic constituencies,” according to a statement from Hughes, NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire and former judge Nelson A. Diaz, a civil rights activist.

“Instead of appealing to the growing electorate it seems like Republicans in Pennsylvania are scheming to reduce the impact Latinos can have on (presidential) elections,” Diaz said on a conference call organized by the liberal activist group Americans United for Change and promoted by the Democratic National Committee.

SB 538 would change the state’s method of awarding electoral votes from winner-take-all to proportional, giving two electoral votes for the statewide popular vote winner and splitting the remaining 18 based on the percentage of the popular vote each presidential nominee receives. In 2012, President Obama, who took a little more than 52 percent of the vote, would have received 12 electoral votes, to 8 EVs for Republican Mitt Romney under this approach.

The bill was introduced last week by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R.,Chester), and he has 12 fellow Republicans lined up as co-sponsors.

It is different from a proposal Pileggi made last year, which would have changed to a system of allocating electoral votes by the popular vote totals in each congressional district, with two going to the statewide winner. In 2012, such a system would have awarded 13 votes to Romney and seven to Obama.

Since the loss in November, some Republicans have pushed to change electoral-vote allocations in competitive states that went for Obama in 2012, but where the party controls the legislature and governor's office. But GOP leaders in Florida, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio halted those efforts, saying it made them look like sore losers and would reduce the power of their states in the future. 

In Pennsylvania, Republican legislative leaders say that the new bill is a low priority, not even on the list of the top 20 things that need to be done in this legislative session. They’ve hinted it’s not going anywhere.

Yet the bill is in the hopper, and Democrats are treating it as a live grenade, trying to sound the alarm just in case.

“The Republicans control the agenda” and can push the bill through “at any moment in time,” Hughes said on the conference call. “Especially in those last hours of those last days of a legislative session,” he said, “anything can happen and historically all kinds of things have happened in the past that have caused mischief and mayhem.”

Each state determines how to allocate its electoral votes. Every state uses the winner-take-all approach except Maine and Nebraska, which split their electoral votes by congressional district, with two to the statewide winner.

All it takes to make the change is a majority vote in the House and Senate and the governor’s signature. Such a measure would not be subject to a voter referendum or repeal initiative, which are not authorized under the state constitution. The GOP has a majority in each legislative house in Harrisburg, and Gov. Corbett also is a Republican.

Here is an article I wrote about the proposal in The Philadelphia Inquirer Feb. 9