HARRISBURG, Sept. 27, 2011 — Pennsylvania Senate Democrats representing urban communities today called the Republican plan to change the Electoral College voting process a “blatant attempt to gerrymander votes during presidential election cycles.
“We continuously tell people ‘Your vote counts,’ but the Republican leadership in the House and Senate are making a blatant attempt to discourage voting in typically Democratic urban areas,” said state Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-Phila.), chair of the Senate Philadelphia Delegation, at a Capitol news conference. “What they are saying to my constituents and people living in cities is that their vote should not count equally.”
Pennsylvania presidential electors cast all votes for the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote, but under Senate Republican Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s (R-Chester) plan, presidential candidates would receive one vote for each Congressional district he or she wins.
“From the voter ID legislation to the Electoral College proposal, they are bent on putting obstacles in the way of participation,” Kitchen said. “Under this Electoral College plan, the voice of the people of Pennsylvania is not a collective one; it’s divided into blocks of communities. If the Republicans believe the system is broken, why rush to change the process? I think we know the answer. They are concerned about the outcome of the 2012 election and accommodating national Republicans who have been unable to win Pennsylvania one election after another. It’s pure politics.”
Sen. Mike Stack (D-Phila.) said the Republican plan would have a major impact on Pennsylvania’s economy.
During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama raised $8.55 million and Sen. John McCain raised $3.26 million in the Philadelphia area alone.
“Every visit by a candidate brings a crowd, from the candidate’s staff and family to the media to the general public. These individuals need to eat. They need a place to stay. They need to gas up their vehicles,” Stack said. “Presidential elections are an economic boom for Pennsylvania, especially in our urban areas where candidates often focus their attention. For every campaign stop, people are put to work. Money is spent.
“Most important of all, the candidates pay attention to us because they know Pennsylvania’s electoral votes matter,” Stack said. “Yet the Republicans want us to change to an Electoral College process that only two other states — Nebraska and Maine — utilize. They’re not battleground states. They barely make the Radar during presidential election cycles.”
Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous state, whereas Nebraska is 39th and Maine is 42nd.
During the 2004 presidential elections, the Bush and Kerry campaigns and their affiliated interest groups spent a total of $36 million on advertising here. Pennsylvania was among the top five states that both presidential candidates visited, and we received the third highest percentage of television ad time that year.
Contrarily, Maine was targeted 13th in television ad time and received exactly one visit from Sen. John Kerry. Nebraska wasn’t even a factor in television advertising, nor did the candidates stop there.
“The current system gives our economy a nice little kick and brings national attention to the Keystone State at a time when we really could use it,” Stack said. “I oppose Senator Pileggi’s legislation and strongly urge the General Assembly to consider the implications of the measure. We need to focus our priorities on what’s best for Pennsylvania, not what’s best for a political affiliation.”
Sen. Tina Tartaglione said the legislation is essentially an acknowledgement that Republicans can’t win without changing the rules.
“They are telling their own candidates for president that Pennsylvania is lost and the best they can do is attempt a risky, pre-emptive attack on a 200-year-old system,” said Tartaglione (D-Phila.). “Newspapers and good-government groups across the state have expressed outrage. Republicans and Democrats alike have warned of the consequences of arrogance. Controlling the redistricting and then altering the election count along the lines of the districts is a broad overreach and it will ultimately backfire.”
Sen. Larry Farnese said the Republicans should focus on the real issues impacting Pennsylvania, including high unemployment numbers, rather than politics.
“This proposal once again shows that under Republican leadership we have a priority problem in Harrisburg,” said Farnese (D-Phila.). “Instead of focusing on getting people back to work, we’re trying to fix elections by changing how votes are counted instead of how people vote.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes said the measure has been tainted by partisan politics.
“This is a political power grab,” said Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery). “It’s an attempt to disenfranchise all Pennsylvania people and advance only a certain sector.”
The Senate State Government Committee will hold a public hearing to address this legislation on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 11 a.m. in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building in the Capitol in Harrisburg.
Sen. Anthony H. Williams, Democratic chairman of the committee, encouraged the public to submit written testimony or attend the public hearing.