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The Electoral College

Because you are so *freaking* special, I thought I’d treat you to a section from my essay:

While this is one of the advantages of the Electoral College system, it also serves as a significant disadvantage: variations in the weight of individual votes across different states still exist and are, in fact, exacerbated by the Electoral College system.  Rather than favouring large states, it favours both small and swing states, which has significant implications for policy and governance.

The disparity, between states, of per-capita representation in the Electoral College has long been the subject of criticism.  The allocation of votes based on number of representatives in both houses of Congress- not merely the House of Representatives, the composition of which reflects state populations- means that small states have a much smaller ratio of electors to citizens, or electors to votes cast.

Statistician Nate Silver calculated that, based on population projections, Wyoming had 176,885 residents per electoral vote cast in the 2008 presidential election.  District of Columbia, Vermont, North Dakota and Alaska all had fewer than 250,000 residents per vote case (Silver: 7 June 2008).  By contrast, Texas had 759,406 residents per electoral vote.  Florida had 681,948.  California, Arizona, Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Illinois all had more than 600,000 residents per vote cast.  In fact, 29 states had a ratio greater than 500,000:1. (Silver: 7 June 2008) The votes in those 29 states were effectively, mathematically worth less than half those of the smaller states.  This inequality in voting is arguably incongruent with principles of democracy and equality.

While this more traditional understanding of the inequality of votes is certainly mathematically supported, more sophisticated models illustrate the comparative importance of voters based not on the ratio of electoral votes to population, but on the relative importance of voters in swing states when compared with states that are relatively safe.  While precision in this modeling is more difficult, it is clearly demonstrated by Gelman, Silver and Edlin that there is a significant disparity between the relatively likelihood of an individual’s vote influencing the outcome of an election based on the state in which they live (Gelman et al, 2008).  Gelman et al. assert that, during the 2008 election, votes in New Mexico, New Hampshire, Virginia and Colorado were most likely to have a direct impact on the outcome of the election (Gelman et al, 2008, p. 3).

Statistical analysis of this is interesting, but the relative importance of swing states has implications beyond the electoral process.  Perhaps the most worrying flaw in the Electoral College system is not its tendency to value votes in swing states more highly than those in other states, but the practical policy implications of this.  In 2001, President George W. Bush introduced a steel tariff that was a directly related to the swinging nature of steel-producing states West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania (Klein, 2008; Magnusson, 2002). Zack Pelta-Heller contends that the assistance provided to Florida after four hurricanes in 2004, when contrasted to that provided in New Orleans the following year, can be directly attributed to Florida’s comparative electoral important (Pelta-Hellar, 2007).  The structure of the Electoral College system affects not only how presidents are elected, but also how they govern.

One thought on “The Electoral College

  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by 1,246 state legislators — 460 sponsors (in 48 states) and an additional 786 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    The National Popular Vote bill has been endorsed by the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, Miami Herald, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sacramento Bee, The Tennessean, Fayetteville Observer, Anderson Herald Bulletin, Wichita Falls Times, The Columbian, and other newspapers. The bill has been endorsed by Common Cause, Fair Vote, and numerous other organizations.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado — 68%, Iowa — 75%, Michigan — 73%, Missouri — 70%, New Hampshire — 69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, North Carolina — 74%, Ohio — 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware — 75%, Maine — 71%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire — 69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas —80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi —77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 73% , Massachusetts — 73%, New York — 79%, and Washington — 77%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 23 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

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