Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania are pushing a scheme that, if GOPers in other states follow their lead, could cause President Barack Obama to lose the 2012 election—not because of the vote count, but because of new rules. That's not all: There's no legal way for Democrats to stop them.
The problem for Obama, and the opportunity for Republicans, is the electoral college. Every political junkie knows that the presidential election isn't a truly national contest; it's a state-by-state fight, and each state is worth a number of electoral votes equal to the size of the state's congressional delegation. (The District of Columbia also gets three votes.) There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs; win 270, and you're the president.
Here's the rub, though: Each state gets to determine how its electoral votes are allocated. Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top GOPers in both houses of the state Legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state's two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)
This could cost Obama dearly. The GOP controls both houses of the state Legislature plus the governor's mansion—the so-called "redistricting trifecta"—in Pennsylvania. Congressional district maps are adjusted after every census, and the last one just finished up. That means Pennsylvania Republicans get to draw the boundaries of the state's congressional districts without any input from Democrats. Some of the early maps have leaked to the press, and Democrats expect that the Pennsylvania congressional map for the 2012 elections will have 12 safe GOP seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats.
Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state's two senators) for winning the state. Since Obama would lose 12 electoral votes relative to the winner-take-all baseline, this would have an effect equivalent to flipping a medium-size winner-take-all state—say, Washington, which has 12 electoral votes—from blue to red.* And Republicans wouldn't even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it.
You have to give the Republicans credit for initiative and ingenuity. They always seem to find a way to work the system to their advantage. In this case, however, I just don't think it's necessary. So many voters who came out for Barack Obama in 2008 are so dispirited that they're unlikely to even show up next year in sufficient numbers to neutralize Republican efforts like this, or vote suppression laws, and the other shenanigans they've been up to since 2012 to ensure Republican victories at the ballot box. The only questions remaining now are whether the Money Guys or the Teabaggers will get to pick the Republican nominee, and whether the Republican president that's going to be elected next year is going to be named "Mitt Romney" or "Rick Perry", or who knows, perhaps, even "Jeb Bush."
Too bad the Republicans don't realize they already have a Republican president. His name is Barack Obama.