My Plum Line post yesterday was about the possibility that Republicans may switch Pennsylvania’s electoral vote system to a Maine-like districted plan, thus taking away about half the votes that a Democrat would get from the Keystone state in a national election in which the Dem had a small overall vote plurality (since PA is very marginally a Democratic state). My main point over there was that this is consistent with both Constitutional hardball (that is, violating norms that were never codified) and with the recent trend in which Democrats take advantage of landslides to enact substantive policy while Republicans use landslides to attempt to consolidate power.

I’ll add a couple of things for now over here. One is that Matt Yglesias makes the point that states are in fact free to do whatever they want with their electoral votes; the Constitution doesn’t say anything about elections at all, let alone how to apportion the votes. While that’s true and a useful point to make, the counterargument would be that there probably are things that are so far from the norm that it’s perhaps a mistake to extrapolate how people would react from what we know of political behavior in other situations, and a party canceling a presidential election in a state and conferring the EVs on their candidate would be one of those things.

The other thing to add is to send you all to an excellent post by Matt Glassman, who adds some historical perspective and explains why attempts such as these are rare and should remain rare even if state party leaders now would care more about national party success than maximizing state clout. I agree with him in general, but I’m not convinced as he is that Pennsylvania Republicans are unlikely to act. I think Glassman puts a bit too much emphasis on the possibility that Republicans could cost themselves EVs if they act (since Republicans could certainly win PA in 2012). After all, the partisan disincentive is only for the chance of PA going Republican when the rest of the nation goes very narrowly Democratic, so that the lost (Republican) EVs throw the election to the Democrats. That scenario is possible, but at least in my view far less likely than the chance that the opposite would happen, and neutralizing PA would shift the election to the Republican nominee. On the other hand, it is possible that Republicans could be risk-averse, and it’s also possible that the threat of national disapproval might push them away from acting.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.