Could the 2012 Presidential election be decided this week? Very possibly.
You can chalk this up to elections-have-consequences. As reported by the Washington Post:
Here’s the story. The electoral college is mandated by the Constitution as the way to determine the winner of presidential elections, but it’s up to each state to decide how to apportion their electoral votes. Traditionally, states have chosen a winner-take-all system, because that maximizes the state’s clout. Indeed, that’s why large and close states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio are so important in presidential elections.
But now, as Nick Baumann reports, Republicans who control Pennsylvania government after the 2010 elections are pushing a scheme to apportion electoral votes by Congressional district (as Maine and Nebraska currently do). The effect would be to basically make Pennsylvania a marginal player in the 2012 election. After all, most House districts (including those in the Keystone State) have lopsided partisan majorities, so they wouldn’t be in play, and parties would be unlikely to devote serious resources to try to pick off a couple of electoral votes in the swing districts — and even less unlikely to devote the massive resources it would take to capture the two remaining at-large votes, given that it would be far more efficient to use the money in much smaller states with more (winner-take-all) electoral votes up for grabs.
As far as the effects of this policy, effectively eliminating Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania from the electoral college would be huge — and if Republican legislatures and governors in Michigan and Wisconsin did the same thing in those Democratic-leaning states, it would combine to establish a large Republican bias in the electoral college (compared to a current situation in which there’s basically either no bias or a very small edge for the Democrats).
This is entirely consistent, as Kevin Drum points out, with GOP efforts to use their 2010 landslide to secure future electoral advantages.
How does this affect the 2012 race? As summarized here,
Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state’s two senators) for winning the state. Since Obama would lose 12 electoral votes relative to the winner-take-all baseline, this would have an effect equivalent to flipping a medium-sized winner-take-all state—say, Washington, which has 12 electoral votes—from blue to red.* And Republicans wouldn’t even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it.
I suggested that Alabama Democrats should pursue eliminating winner-take-all, also. However, I recommended that we should divide our electoral votes proportionately: the number of presidential electors any presidential candidate receives in Alabama would depend on what proportion of the popular vote the presidential candidate receives. Such a change in law would increase participation and candidate engagement by making Presidential campaigns fight for Alabama votes.
In a raw Machiavellian and partisan stratagem, the proposed modifications of the Pennsylvania GOP-controlled legislature do just the opposite. It decreases engagement and participation. It removes any incentive for Presidential candidates to come to their state. The election of their Presidential electors will be predetermined by political gerrymandering. Such gerrymandering already is the root cause of today’s stifling political environment and incumbent resiliency. This change is done out of mere partisan presidential politics. There is no advantage or improvement to civic and electoral processes; it merely breeds additional public cynicism about politics.
One thing can be said of the GOP here: they play true partisan hardball. They are playing for keeps, irrespective of the damage done to our democratic institutions or the moral legitimacy of elections.