Electoral College Modifications

I have said before that I am no fan of the electoral college and that statement would stand irrespective of the results of the 2000 presidential election. Unlike Unqualified Offerings, I am more of a small-d democrat than a small-r republican.

One of the most exasperating things about the electoral college is that different states can allocate their electoral votes differently. Nowadays, Maine and Nebraska give 2 electoral votes each to the winner of the popular vote in the state while the other electoral votes in these states are divided based on who wins the individual congressional districts in the state. All the other states have a winner-take-all system in which the winner of the popular vote in the state gets all the electoral votes of the state. This results in a close election (by popular votes) looking lopsided in terms of electoral votes.

This year, there is a ballot initiative in Colorado that will change how Colorado’s 9 electoral votes are allocated. Amendment 36 will allocate the electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote. Given current opinion polls, the passage of the amendment could mean Colorado dividing its electoral votes 5-4 for the two Presidential candidates this year. However, there might be legal issues involved in applying this rule to this year’s election.

I was wondering how previous elections would have turned out if all the states had the same rules as Maine and Nebraska. I found a website which applies the Maine-Nebraska District Plan to all elections since 1968. I decided to do similar calculations to see the results if the proposed Colorado plan had been adopted in all states in 1968. The table below shows the results:

Year Actual Result ME-NE Method CO Method
  R D I R D I R D I
1968 302 191 45 291 190 57 240 226 72
1972 521 17 474 64 337 201
1976 241 297 268 270 265 273
1980 489 49 0 395 143 0 285 224 29
1984 525 13 468 70 320 218
1988 426 112 0 377 161 0 291 247 0
1992 168 370 0 213 325 0 206 235 97
1996 159 379 0 192 346 0 228 273 37
2000 271 267 0 287 251 0 264 269 5

Caveat: I used the voting data tabulated by Jeff Sagarin. If there is any error there, it might have affected my Colorado proportional plan calculations as well.

The details of how the electoral votes would be apportioned in Colorado if the amendment passes can be found in subsections 3 and 4 of Amendment 36.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

13 thoughts on “Electoral College Modifications”

  1. Well, Saima, you can take comfort in the thought that the election posting should abate after November 2.

    On a darker note, though, the electoral college might split by some razor thing margin, triggering a court battle. With judges deciding the election, democracy might get creamed again, and the whole fiasco will make the U.S. look like a banana republic. Speaking of bananas and cream, I think it fitting to give this scenario a name; I christen it a “Banana Split.” Posterity may require a definition; so…

    Banana Split – an almost evenly split electoral college presidential victory relying upon a small number of votes in one or two states accepted only after judicial intervention. The associated court cases must also reveal errors, “irregularities” and simple idiocy expected only in “Banana Republics.”

    I wonder what flavor of ice cream I should buy on November 1…? Perhaps, “Chocolate Hanging Chad,” “Butterfly Ballots and Cream” or “Carter-I-Told-You-So Twist? Any suggestions?

  2. The ballot would drive a stake through the heart of Colorado. What they are proposing only strengthens the federal and centralising tendencies of the American government.

    The proposal is applicable for the larger states, i.e Florida, NewYork, Texas and California where a split in the electoral vote would make them more competitive as opposed to being merely safe. This may in truth favour the Republicans (urban states are democratic, rural rep).

    The electoral college exists to preserve the federation of states and preserve their clout despite urbanisation and clustering. A single electoral seat in Colorado will not be worth campagning for.

  3. Saima: Because it’s election season?

    Captain Arrrgh: Chris Matthews had a theory according to which in the end this election is going to be a landslide. He didn’t say for whom though. So may be you should buy Mint Mudslide?

    Zachary: If Colorado alone passes this amendment, then it would become irrelevant for Presidential campaigns, I agree.

    I am not sure electoral college nowadays does anything beneficial for the federal system. It is just an artifact of the 18th century now.

  4. Zack this is a federal, not national election, and in effect it is the sub-national units who are electing the president through the popular vote. The union of the states accounts for the existence and primacy of America, if they do not

    This is how it should be and I would recommend the same system for Pakistan, as opposed to the Parliamentary system.

    But anyways even if all 50 states adopt it, then Middle America would be ruined. On average most states would be split 50-50 or 60-40, irrespective of campaigning. There would be no use in campaigning in n.dakota, colorado or wisconsin for a couple of electoral seats. No presidential candidate would be able to carry the entire states and the battleground would invariably shift to Cali, NY, Texas, Michigan and Florida (perhaps michigan, ohio, penn). Imagine if Cali and Idaho are split between Rep and Demo 40/60 and 50/50. Now the republicans would still have more incentive to campaign in californian, not to win the state mind you, but merely to increase their electoral clout. The system would immediately breakdown and noone would waste their time in the small states. This is the moment when America isn’t merely the coastal megapolises but an integrated federal nation.

    The federal elections would be shattered and replaced by national ones. The founding fathers were geniuses and America is the fruition of their foresight on virtually issue of import.

  5. Zachary: Among the elected branches of US government, senators represent states, representatives their individual districts and the President the nation.

    I would recommend the same system for Pakistan.

    While Pakistan has a parliamentary system, the President is elected (i.e., when he doesn’t come to power through a coup) through a complicated system by the provincial assemblies and federal parliament.

    But anyways even if all 50 states adopt it, then Middle America would be ruined.

    The “ruin” of Middle America is really going to be because a lot of young people are emigrating from there. Political clout is secondary.

    There would be no use in campaigning in n.dakota, colorado or wisconsin for a couple of electoral seats.

    No one campaigns in the Dakotas, Wyoming or other small states. It is the medium-sized states with close elections that get all the attention. Plus it is an accident of history that the populous states (CA, TX, NY) have such lopsided elections. It was not too long ago that California was Republican and Texas was Democratic.

    And why shouldn’t Presidential candidates campaign where most voters live?

    The founding fathers were geniuses and America is the fruition of their foresight on virtually issue of import.

    While the founding fathers were indeed geniuses, the electoral college was not one of their brighter moments. It was a compromise between those who wanted a directly elected President and those who wanted Congress to elect the President.

    If you check the early US elections, the first popular election of the President was in 1828 of Andrew Jackson. Before that, members of the electoral college decided who became President unconstrained by the wishes of ordinary voters. Even now, there is no legal constraint on the electors.

  6. Pakistan’s parliamentary system does not complement a federal govt, as per my original point. The President is the consititutional monarch and indeed it would rather have been more suitable to nominate a Mughal to preside over such a shallow duties.

    Middle America is undergoing demographic changes as per Europe and idneed the rest of the world. The population pyramid may be inverted but it does not mean it’s ruined. To lose their political voice would inevitably confirm their inevitable marginalisation.

    Btw the electoral college is merely the amount of legislators the state has in Congress. Thus a minimum of two is always guaranteed because each state must send two senators.

    Well under the Colorado system it would only be the coastal and above 20 electoral states that would be worth campaigning in, as opposed to the thirty odd states now (somebody should review the campaign travels).

    Indeed the electoral college is about America a federal rather than a national state.

    I think a compromise is always best and I don’t anybody would want the voice of urban American drowning those of the others, as would be the inevitable outcome of the disestablishment of the electoral college.

    Whilst I agree there is no law regulating the electors, I guess the priniple of modus operandi is it’s greatest guardian, much in the same way Britain’s political system operates (no consitution save for a bill of rights, but the political rights are generally understood).

  7. Zachary: Pakistan’s parliamentary system does not complement a federal govt.

    A federal system does not require a Presidential form of government as you are arguing. There are pros and cons to both parliamentary and presidential systems.

    Middle America is undergoing demographic changes as per Europe.

    Not exactly, unless you mean eastern Europe. Some of “Middle America”, mostly the Great Plains states like the Dakotas or Wyoming, are losing people due to emigration. There are counties there which have fewer population today than when that region was the frontier.

    Other states, like Nevada and Arizona, are gaining a lot of population.

    If these trends hold, then either the US will have to live with a very distorted political system or do something to balance the voting power across states (at least for the House of Representatives). Right now, a House member represents anywhere from 493,782 (Wyoming) to 902,195 (Montana) people. Even if you exclude the single House member states, the variation is from 524,160 (Rhode Island) to 744,390 (Utah). The average population per House member is 645,632. If the low-population, low-growth states remain the same, then the size of the House of Representatives will have to be drastically increased for fairness.

    under the Colorado system it would only be the coastal and above 20 electoral states that would be worth campaigning in.

    Looking at the electoral votes, if a candidates wins the 11 most populous states (i.e. gets all their electoral votes), he gets 271 electoral votes. Under the Colorado system, this would be extremely unlikely. Assuming a candidate gets an average of 60% of the popular vote in the most populous states (a landslide in US Presidential elections), he would need to win the top 30 states to get 270 electoral votes.

    The campaigning considerations remain the same as they are now. Candidates would spend their time where they can affect the largest number of EVs in their favor. But that does not necessarily mean the most populous states. Population would most definitely matter more but isn’t the only issue.

    thirty odd states now (somebody should review the campaign travels).

    I don’t think the number is 30. It is less than that. I don’t have time to check it right now, but I might do so later.

    voice of urban American drowning those of the others,

    Since less than a quarter of the US population is rural (and decreasing), there really is no way to avoid the reduction in their voting clout. I guess you haven’t heard that “demos” in democracy means people. 🙂

  8. I stated my opinion on why eliminating the electoral college isn’t worth it on my blog within the past few weeks (and many times in the past on Usenet), so I’m not going to make the long and somewhat complicated case again here.

    I do want want to note a couple of things, though. One, you can pretty well count on the Colorado measure failing, I think. (And thank goodness, for a variety of reasons, ranging from the strong possibility that Kerry will win here, and can use every electoral vote he can get, to the fact that whatever the merits of the Electoral college, if it is to be eliminated, it must be done in all 48 remaining states at the same time; to do it our state alone is politically suicidal in terms of political power, and for various other reasons.)

    Two: “No one campaigns in the Dakotas, Wyoming or other small states.”

    Not in the Dakotas Dakota or Wyoming, but that has nothing to do with their 3 electoral votes; it’s because they’re guaranteed Republican wins, just as no one is campaigning in sizable NY or California, because this year they’re guaranteed Kerry wins.

    Little New Hampshire, though, is in a fierce battle. It’s not the size of the electoral count that matters, or the size of the state, it’s how swing or not it is. And this is part of why eliminating the EC is a bad idea despite not being obviously so, but I digress.

    “2000 271 267 0 287 251 0 264 269 5”

    You neglect to note that this means that in 2000, if every state had the proposed Colorado system, since no candidate would have had the necessary 270 electoral votes, the election would have put into the House of Representatives, where Bush would have been elected after vast chaos. Not a better result.

    But, meanwhile, indeed, all the smaller states would have been ignored by the campaigns, and state power would be vastly diminished in favor of non-geographic voting blocks; this would, indeed, be terrible for the federal system and all but the largest states, though it would favor even more polarized voting by interest group. What a great idea (not).

  9. Gary: The electoral college debate is a long one and I am too busy packing my apartment to do justice to it.

    I can understand pragmatic as well as conservative concerns with doing away with the electoral college. But saying that the electoral college scheme was part of the genius of the founding fathers doesn’t impress me at all. The founding fathers wanted to do what Ayub Khan managed in Pakistan in the 1960s by creating an extra layer between the hoi polloi and the election of the President.

    ranging from the strong possibility that Kerry will win here

    While I would really want Kerry to win in Colorado, I don’t decide about political reforms based on who would benefit in the short term.

    if it is to be eliminated, it must be done in all 48 remaining states at the same time;

    I agree as I mentioned in the post that the worst thing is the difference between the rules among states.

    in 2000, if every state had the proposed Colorado system, since no candidate would have had the necessary 270 electoral votes, the election would have put into the House of Representatives

    Which is why ideally I would like an instant runoff election system.

    However, since electoral college members are free to vote for whoever they wish, the Nader ones could tilt the balance towards Gore if they wanted.

    Also note that nobody would have gotten a majority of the electoral votes in 1968 and 1992 either under the proposed Colorado system.

    it would favor even more polarized voting by interest group.

    I don’t agree. It would probably be about the same as far as polarization is concerned.

  10. I should post on this issue, perhaps when I find the time I’ll collate it. I’m very interested in the federal govt, as opposed to the democratic process. I’m of the belief the only antidote to globalisation, in it’s full thrall as is inevitable, is the development of localism and parochial politics as of yore. The electoral is a fine vindication of this belief and preserves the balance of the electorate vis a vis the voice of the collective.

    Bertrand Russell is perhaps the best tutor in this regard by maintaining the failure of democracy with teh size of the state. There can be no democracy in nation of hundreds of million for the individual citizen is ruled rather than the ruler (think of it this way one voter cannot influence society; society influences him).

  11. Zachary: as opposed to the thirty odd states now

    According to New York Times, Bush and Kerry are focussing on 11 states now. These 11 states have a total of 135 electoral votes and about a quarter of the country’s population.

    I’m very interested in the federal govt, as opposed to the democratic process.

    This can be an interesting topic of debate.

  12. I’m curious to see how it turns out this year… It’s such a swing state no one knows. I should vote there this year…but doing it here….insh’Allah.

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