Legislative leaders in Pennsylvania are busy concocting schemes designed to win elections if they can’t win the popular vote. Proposed Senate Bill 1282 would have awarded Electoral College votes based on the results in each of the state's congressional districts. Republicans won 13 of 18 races in November of 2012.
The latest plan is House Bill 94. According to Republicans, the “winner take all” concept is not representational. So a number of Republican states that lost the popular vote to President Obama, Virginia and Pennsylvania included, have introduced legislation that would assign Electoral College votes to Republican controlled Congressional Districts. They maintain that the popular vote does not reflect the “real sense of what the people want”. Why should Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have such weight in allocating Presidential electors in Pennsylvania?
Humorist Paul Bibeau, (http://paulbibeau.blogspot.com/2013/01), points out a numerical oddity about the effects of the proposed Virginia law that turns out, upon reflection, to be more stinging than funny: “The (Virginia) bill counts an Obama voter as 3/5 of a person.” That is because, “Obama voters would have received almost exactly 3/5 of the electoral vote compared to their actual population — 30.7 percent of the electoral vote over 51 percent of the popular vote.”
He is referring to the curious history in allocating Congressional representation according to population. At the time there was apparently no way that the Southern states would accept representation to Congress on a strict population count. Anti-slavery northerner James Wilson of Pennsylvania came up with a compromise. Blacks in the Southern states would be counted as “three-fifths” of a person. That way, it would take 50,000 people (instead of 30,000) in a district to earn congressional representation. The 3/5 Compromise settled the issue of how slave populations would be considered in determining representation in the House of Representatives. Although slaves were not citizens, and could not vote, the Southern states wanted them counted as residents for apportionment purposes.
The “Three-fifths Compromise of 1787” gave the otherwise small white populations of the South an equal footing with the more populous North. Today the idea of considering any citizen as 3/5 of a person is too horrible to contemplate.
If legislation like HB 94 had been in effect in November, designating particular areas for an apportionment purpose would have been true of the presidential election in each of the states considering the new rules. Based on control of House Districts by Republicans, 12 or 13 of Pennsylvania’s twenty Electoral College votes would have gone to Governor Romney, 4 or 5 to President Obama. Not quite the 3/5ths rule, but close. The concept holds. The Republicans could have won the 2012 Election by counting some citizens as less than full voters. Not slaves, but voters held captive by one party changing the rules to benefit themselves.
There are two important thoughts here. First, every citizen must contact his/her Representative to the Pennsylvania House to demand a NO vote on HB 94. It’s cringe-worthy, with negative connotations about the value of any vote. Secondly, the underlying concept can be equally applied to either party. If the party majorities change, then Democrats could control the apportioned votes. Bad law is not good for anybody, now or ever.
Ann Melby Shenkle
January 28, 2013