In Nebraska, Republicans who want to change the way the state awards its electoral votes have been pretty straightforward about why. As the Lincoln Journal Star put it back in January, the state’s Republican Party has "mounted an all-out assault" on Nebraska’s current system, which divides some of its votes by district.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, sponsor of the bill, told committee members that winner-take-all should be viewed more as an expression of "Nebraska unity." Republicans have attempted to repeal the split-vote system before, but the effort acquired a sense of urgency this year after Barack Obama won metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District vote in 2008, denying Republican nominee John McCain one of Nebraska's five electoral votes. … "We would not want to see Obama re-elected (in 2012) by one electoral vote in Omaha," McCoy warned.
Over the weekend, the Omaha World-Herald reports, the Nebraska Republican Party leadership committee passed a resolution declaring the change in the electoral system to be a Republican litmus test and insisting all Republican lawmakers support it or lose the support of the party.
Pat McPherson, a longtime Republican from Omaha, led the charge. McPherson said there was nothing wrong with injecting politics into an issue that was highly political and that passed with the support of Democratic lawmakers in 1992. He said the split-electoral vote system has helped Democrats in Douglas County. In 2008, Obama's campaign opened several offices in Omaha and worked to bring Democrats to the polls. "We shouldn't be afraid to be political," said McPherson.
In Nebraska, they certainly don't seem afraid to be political.
In Pennsylvania, where Democratic presidential candidates have carried the state since 1992, Republicans at the state level also want to change the electoral vote system. Only they want the system the Nebraska Republicans are trying to get rid of. They want a system where they can split up most of their 20 electoral votes by district.
Why? Democrats and a number of analysts say that much like Republicans in Nebraska, the Republicans in Pennsylvania are trying to make sure President Obama will get fewer electoral votes in next year's election. (It's worth noting that there's some opposition to this plan from Republicans, including some who worry it would mean more Democratic Party money and organization in vulnerable Republican districts.)
For his part, Pennsylvania's State Senate Majority Leader, Republican Dominic Pileggi, who announced the plan in the first place, told Slate's Dave Weigel last week that it's about what's best for Pennsylvania voters:
"I'm getting more complaints from Republicans!" he says. "Some Republicans believe 2012 is going to be the year we win the popular vote in Pennsylvania again." He is thinking only of the commonwealth. "This would be good for Pennsylvania," Pileggi says. "The results would reflect which candidate won the popular vote. Is there a better way to closely conform the electoral vote to the popular vote? I'm open to suggestions."
But Democrats, it seems, think the Pennsylvania plan is unfair, not because they're in love with the electoral college or the winner-take-all system, but because, if you take Republicans at their word, here's what you have: Republicans in one state with a big chunk of electoral votes – a state that has voted for the Democrat for president in every election since 1992 – trying to change only their state’s system, as it if existed and elected the president in a vacuum. But it doesn't. The relative fairness of the way Pennsylvania hands out its electoral votes is, arguably, tied to the way most of the other states hand out theirs.
While Pennsylvania is shopping around for ideas, there is a plan out there that aims to make the popular vote count, for everyone, all at once. Eight states and the District of Columbia have agreed to the National Popular Vote compact. It's a state-based plan designed to make sure the majority of electoral votes go to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide. Once enough states have signed on so that, together, they account for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, they'll give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who wins each state. (Here's how the plan works.) The states (and D.C.) that have already agreed to the plan have about half the electoral votes they need. California signed on last month, adding its 55 votes.