Republicans in various states are currently considering a plan that would change the distribution of their electoral college votes, improving the GOP’s chances of defeating President Obama in November 2012.
Currently, 48 states and Washington D.C. use a “winner-take-all” system for distributing their votes in the electoral college. In this system, the candidate who wins the popular vote in a state wins all of the electoral votes assigned to a state. The two exceptions are Maine and Nebraska. Since 1972, Maine has been utilizing an alternative way of calculating Electoral College votes, and, in 1996, Nebraska adopted this same method. In this system, each congressional district is assigned one electoral vote. If a candidate wins the popular vote of a congressional district, then the candidate is given one electoral vote. Also, if a candidate wins the popular vote of the entire state, then the candidate is given two electoral votes.
Pennsylvania is proposing changing from its old Electoral College vote system to the Maine/Nebraska system. Because both houses of the Pennsylvania state legislature are controlled by Republicans and the governor is a Republican, it is entirely possible that Pennsylvania will change to the Maine/Nebraska system. Each state is given the power to distribute its electoral votes as it sees fit, meaning that this approach is entirely constitutional.
Furthermore, Republicans have total political control over Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin after the state legislature and gubernatorial elections in 2010. If the GOP plays its cards right, these three states, which were a key ingredient to Obama’s victory in 2008, could change to the Maine/Nebraska system as well. This could seriously alter Obama’s re-election chances. For example, in Ohio, it is estimated that Democrats would control only 4 to 7 electoral votes with the Maine/Nebraska system. In comparison, the Democrats are expected to control 18 electoral votes with the current system. If more states change to the new system that Pennsylvania is heading towards, President Obama could more easily be defeated in the 2012 election, especially with the current economic state and his low approval ratings.
To illustrate the impact of this change, let’s see what it would have been like if the Maine/Nebraska system has been in place for all states during the 2008 election. Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election with the margin of 365-173. If the Maine/Nebraska system had been in effect at the time, the final result would have been 301-237, a far closer outcome.