Electoral College Reform by the Numbers

I recently started looking into electoral reform.  It originally started with me looking into campaign finance law, but I came across the National Popular Vote movement and have realized that this is as pressing an issue as campaign finance.  I had heard about the movement to reform the electoral college system in the past, but until now had never realized it’s vital importance to this country.

Almost everyone knows the basics of how current presidential elections work.  Each state has a certain number of electoral college delegates.  Whichever candidate receives the most votes in a state receives the full count of their electoral votes.  Once a candidate gets 270 electoral votes, it is game over, that person is now president.  What most people don’t know is how the number of electoral delegates are determined.  This is done according to  Article II Section 1 Claus 2 of the Constitution which states

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Now the problem with this is that it is not representative.  While the number of house representatives per state are based (somewhat) by population, the number of senators are not.  The leads to a vastly disproportionate .  For example, lets look at the difference between the 3 largest and smallest states from 2008 (worldatlas.com).  The three smallest states and their number of electoral delegates per million are
  • Wyoming: Pop=0.532 mil, Delegates=3, Delegates per million=5.64
  • Vermont: Pop=0.621 mil, Delegates=3, Delegates per million=4.83
  • North Dakota: Pop=.641 mil, Delegates=3, Delegates per million=4.67
The three largest states on the other hand have
  • New York: Pop=19.49 mil, Delegates=31, Delegates per million=1.6
  • Texas: Pop=24,33 mil, Delegates=34, Delegates per million=1.39
  • California: Pop=36.75 mil, Delegates=55, Delegates per million=1.49

If this were the only flaw with the electoral college system, when it comes to presidential elections, a resident of Wyoming is worth almost 4 times of a resident of California.  This is a far from equal system.  However the system is even more broken than this.

The first past the post system, that exists in all but 2 states (Nebraska and Maine), means that votes in states with close elections are far more influential than those in states that are reliably partisan.   What really counts in your vote is not just how many electoral votes your state gets per capita, but how many electoral votes your state has per difference in the victory margin.

The logic behind this is that the closer the election is in a state, the more an individual vote counts, so it is necessary to create a metric to determine the impact of an individual vote in an election factoring this in. So instead of looking at the number of electoral delegates per capita, we should look at the number of electoral divided by the vote difference. Using the 2008 election data to analyze this we see an incredible disparity in voter impact by state we see;

  • Only ten states have significant increases in their national electoral voter impact (by 20% or more).  This represents 110 electoral delegates.
  • One state (New Hampshire) has a slight increase in it’s national electoral voter impact.  This represents 4 electoral delegates.
  • Six states have a slight decrease in their national electoral voter impact (under 20%).  This represents 46 electoral delegates.
  • A whopping thirty three states and the District of Columbia suffer a dramatic decrease in their voter impact.  This represents 378 electoral delegates.

This means that four hundred and twenty eight electoral delegates worth of states, seventy nine percent are hurt by the electoral college system.  Furthermore the difference in voter impact between the most helped (Missouri) and harmed (Maryland) states by the electoral college system in 2008 was over 188.  That means that one voter in Missouri and the same effect on the electoral outcome as one hundred and eighty eight people in Maryland.  This is not the exception.  There are over 20 states where the votes were worth less than 1% of that of one in Missouri, and there are five states whose votes are worth more than ten times that of Maryland.  When I started researching this, I was not expecting such a huge discrepancy in the impact of states on the electoral system, and am shocked at how flawed the system is.  This is level of voter disparity is simply unacceptable in a democracy.

Now, the good news is that the system is very close to being reformed.  Currently there is a mass movement across the nation by states legislatures working to move their states onto a national popular ballot.   These laws are set with trigger mechanisms so they do not kick in until 270 electoral delegates are represented by these states.  Currently there are 130 delegates worth of states have either enacted the change or have had the law pass both state house.  Another 69 delegates  worth of states have had a bill pass one of their state houses, and a smattering of states have such bills out of committee.

You can learn more at www.nationalpopularvote.com.  This is not a partisan issue, but one of fairness in our democracy.  I will be looking more into this soon (as soon my thesis dies down), including putting out a more detailed analysis that includes the 2000 and 2004 elections and some pretty graphs to show how extreme the problem is.

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