Pennsylvania GOP proposes change to electoral vote distribution

A new proposal by the governor of Pennsylvania that would dramatically change how the state awards its Electoral College votes could have a major impact on the 2012 election — and President Obama's reelection chances.

Gov. Tom Corbett and state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, both Republicans, are trying to gather a support for a plan that would award electoral votes based on which candidate wins each of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts, with the final two votes going to the contender with the most votes statewide.

The plan would be similar to the configurations in Nebraska and Maine, which divide their votes rather than adopting the "winner-take-all" system in place in the remaining states plus the District of Columbia. But while Nebraska and Maine have a relatively small impact on the race, due to their size, Pennsylvania's adoption of the system would have a dramatic effect on the presidential process.

Under the expected redistricting of Pennsylvania, Democrats would have six safe seats, versus 12 for the GOP. This means that even if President Obama were to win the state overall, he would likely net just eight electoral votes — while the Republican candidate would win 12. In 2008, Obama won the state's entire slate of 21 votes (Pennsylvania lost an elector after the 2010 census), meaning that if the plan was adopted, he could lose 13 electoral votes without the statewide results changing in any way. Those 13 votes are equivalent to the entire state of Virginia's apportionment for the 2012 election.

State Democrats have blasted the idea, arguing that it would erode Pennsylvania's influence in the presidential election. State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the plan was "a disturbing effort to put their self-interests and party interests ahead of the people."

"Will we now be looking at state gerrymandering that serves a larger, national agenda?" Costa said.

But Democrats might not be able to prevent the measure; Republicans control both chambers of the State Legislature, along with the governor's mansion. Still, it is unclear whether Republicans will be able to gain enough support to push the measure through.