Radio PA Roundtable – December 23-26, 2016

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, we bring you a special holiday edition, with just a smidgeon of politics, as the 58th Electoral College convenes at the state capitol to cast Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes. Then, it’s on to holiday themes as we discuss toy safety and bring in Governor Tom Wolf to talk about Christmases past and present.

All of us at Radio PA and wish you a happy and safe holiday season. Be good to one another, not just during the holidays, but also year-round.

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Electoral College Vote Makes Presidential Election Official

It was a scene being played out across the country as Pennsylvania’s presidential electors cast their ballots Monday for President and Vice President in Harrisburg.   The 57th Electoral College of Pennsylvania met at noon in the chambers of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The outcome was expected; the 20 electors cast their ballots for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Clifford Levine, who served as president of the electoral session, explained why it was important. He told the electors and tellers that they were honoring the votes of a broad and diverse electorate, the aspirations of our founding fathers and the sacrifice of those who marched in our streets and fought in our wars to secure the right to vote.

Governor Corbett added that the gathering bears witness to the genius of our founders and enduring qualities of our national union.    He says the president exemplifies our national values and becomes in many ways a personification of America among other countries.

President Obama and his running mate defeated Republican Challenger Mitt Romney by about 310 thousand votes in the November 6th election in Pennsylvania.

Revised Plan Would Change PA’s Electoral Process

A top Republican lawmaker in Harrisburg has revamped his plan to change the way Pennsylvania awards its electoral votes in presidential elections.  Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware/Chester) believes it should be done “proportionately,” instead of the current winner-take-all model. 

A co-sponsorship memo, circulating in the Senate, states that the new system would more accurately reflect the will of the state’s voters.

One of the key changes from last year’s bill is simply the timing.  “One of the criticisms that we received (last session) was that it was too close to the presidential election,” says Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson, “so in an attempt to eliminate that concern – by introducing it now – clearly we couldn’t be farther away from the next presidential election than we are right now.” 

Also, last year’s bill would have divvied up the state’s 20-electoral votes based on Congressional district, while the new plan would award them based on the percentage of popular vote the candidates receive. 

Had this bill been in effect during the latest presidential election, President Obama would have received 12 of the state’s 20 electoral votes, and Arneson points out that it certainly would not have changed the course of history. 

Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that don’t currently employ a winner-take-all electoral model.

Capitol Rotunda Light Fixture

National Popular Vote Proponents Seize on PA Debate

Pennsylvania allocates its Electoral College votes based on a winner-take-all model.  Critics say it disenfranchises the millions of Pennsylvanians who vote for the losing candidate, every four years.  “The integrity and weight of an individual’s vote is something that must be preserved and protected,” says Luke Bernstein, Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Tom Corbett. 

Bernstein appeared before the Senate State Government Committee to discuss the Corbett administration’s support of the “Congressional District Method” of allocating electoral votes.  Under this system, a presidential candidate would get one vote for winning each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts in 2012.  The two remaining electoral votes would be awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote. 

State Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) told Bernstein his arguments illustrated the imperfections of the Electoral College, but would not correct the problem.  “Frankly if [Governor Corbett] wants to be a part of fixing it, then he probably should join Fred Thompson and others who are here today to talk about a national mass voter participation process,” said Williams, the minority chair of the State Government Committee. 

Williams was alluding to a separate event promoting the National Popular Vote (NPV) initiative.  NPV seeks to ensure that every vote, in every state, is counted equally by awarding electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide.  “They would just be ratifying what the majority of the people in the rest of the nation have done,” says Jim Edgar, the former Governor of Illinois and co-champion of the National Popular Vote initiative. 

“I don’t think America can afford anymore to have the potential divisiveness of a President who’s not elected by the majority of the people,” says the other NPV co-champion, Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee Senator, actor and one-time marginal presidential candidate himself. 

Eight states and the District of Columbia have already passed NPV legislation, which would only take effect if it’s enacted by states representing a majority of the nation’s 538 electoral votes.  With states representing 132 electoral votes on-board, NPV supporters are nearly half-way toward their goal.  In Pennsylvania, NPV legislation has been introduced in both the House (HB 1270) and Senate (SB 1116), but the bills have not seen any action.

Poll: Pennsylvanians Prefer Current Electoral College System

A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that 52% of Pennsylvania voters want to stick with the winner-take-all model, which awards all of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the state’s popular vote.  40% of respondents favored a newly proposed plan to award Electoral College votes based on the results in each of the state’s congressional district. 

“The overall state view on this – by a margin of 57 – 32 – is that it is politically motivated.  That Republicans are doing this to get a candidate a better foothold in the state,” says Quinnipiac pollster Tim Malloy.  There is a political divide on that particular question as 57% of Republicans say the motivation is fairness in reflecting the views of PA voters.  Only 14% of Democrats agreed. 

However, Malloy was struck by the fact that support for the proposed change is merely a toss-up among GOP voters.  “It came down pretty much 50-50 on whether it’s a good idea to change it or not,” Malloy explained while breaking down Republicans’ responses for reporters. 

Asked whether they think the proposed change would affect Pennsylvania’s importance as a key swing state in presidential elections, 51% said it “will hurt” and 38% said it “won’t affect” the state’s clout. 

Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) is sponsoring the proposed change, which has the support of Governor Tom Corbett.  Public hearings are expected next month.  Either way, Pennsylvania will award 20-Electoral Votes in next year’s presidential race.

Groups Unite Against Electoral Proposal

The halls of the state capitol are filled with talk of a controversial new plan to change presidential elections in Pennsylvania.  Many critics are calling it a distraction from an already busy fall agenda.  Those critics gathered in the capitol rotunda, this week, to voice their displeasure.  “It destroys Pennsylvania’s clout in the presidential selection process, transforming us from one of three or four key battleground states into the relative equivalent of Utah or North Dakota,” says State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery).

Leach is blasting a proposal to award one electoral per congressional district, based on the election results within that district.  That would account for 18 of the state’s 20 electoral votes.  The remaining two would be awarded to the winner of the popular vote in the state.  Pennsylvania’s current model – like 47 other states – awards all of its electoral votes to the candidate who nets the most votes statewide. 

Barry Kauffman

Barry Kauffman of Common Cause PA

A host of reform minded groups joined Sen. Leach to speak out against the plan, including Common Cause Pennsylvania.  “It is bad enough that Pennsylvania is a state where partisan gerrymandering runs wild,” says Common Cause PA executive director Barry Kauffman.  “But, this proposal exacerbates that problem by perpetuating unfair, irrational congressional districts in an attempt to pre-determine who will win the bulk of PA’s electoral votes.” 

Joining Sen. Leach and Kauffman were the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Democracy Rising PA and Rock the Capital.  They spoke out on the same day that Governor Tom Corbett was reportedly in Washington DC discussing the idea with Republican members of PA’s congressional delegation. 

The proposal is being sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) and backed by Corbett.  House Republican Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) personally supports his plan, but says he doesn’t know what the consensus would be within his caucus.   

Supporters say the goal is to more fairly represent Pennsylvania voters in the Electoral College.  “Instead we hear issues like clout, or money, or number of visits by a presidential candidate,” Sen. Pileggi told reporters this past weekend.   “That’s not the focus of my bill.”

PA Abuzz Over Possible Electoral Changes

The Constitution allows each state the ability to determine how its electors are assigned in presidential elections.  In 2012, Pennsylvania will have 20-electoral votes.  How they are awarded… is now the subject of debate.  Under the current system, all 20 would be awarded to the winner of PA’s popular vote, but some believe there is a better way to do it. 

Dominic Pileggi

State Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-Del.)

State Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) is backing a plan that would divvy up the votes based on election results in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts, plus two votes being awarded to the winner of PA’s popular vote.  “This proposal is designed to more closely align Pennsylvania’s Electoral College vote with the popular vote in the state,” says Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson. 

Governor Tom Corbett indicated his support for the plan on Radio PA’s monthly Ask the Governor program.  “I think it more closely reflects the vote across the state of Pennsylvania,” Corbett says, “Many people complain about the electoral process and that people are disenfranchised.  This makes the state much more competitive across the entire state.” 

This is the first time such a plan has been offered in Pennsylvania, and Franklin & Marshall College political science professor Terry Madonna believes there would be consequences.  For instance, he believes Pennsylvania’s relevance – in practical terms – would be reduced to 5 – 7 electoral votes.  “That that means that other states, with larger electoral votes, that are competitive, will get far more attention,” Madonna says, adding that this system would not have changed the outcome of any election in modern history, had Pennsylvania been using it. 

Pennsylvania and 47 other states currently follow the winner-take-all model; only Nebraska and Maine follow the model being put forth by the Senate Republican Leader. 

As Democrats have won Pennsylvania in each of the past five presidential elections, many Democrats are calling it a political power grab.  “This is exactly the behavior that is turning the public against politicians,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman Jim Burn said in a statement. 

But Erik Arneson points out that the new system would actually benefit President Barack Obama, if a Republican takes Pennsylvania in 2012, as some pundits predict.  While telling us that it’s about fairness, not politics, Arneson also points out that the plan has been criticized from both sides of the aisle. 

Senator Pileggi is currently circulating a co-sponsorship memo.  The bill should be officially introduced in a few weeks, and they’ve already requested a committee hearing.  After the hearing, Arneson says, they will decide the next course of action.