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A Modest Proposal

There is a bit of a hue and cry from some quarters that the Electoral College should be done away with.  It seems that some feel that the College is anti-democratic because it allows for someone to lose the national popular vote, yet still win the presidential election.

This is, in fact, true.  Someone can carry enough states with lower population, and thus receive their electoral votes and win, while someone can win most of the densely populated states and lose.  This has, indeed, happened, albeit rarely.

Now, I’m not going to go into why I believe the Electoral College is a good thing and why we should leave well enough alone.  I will also not discuss how we do not have a national election for President, rather we have 51 local elections (50 states plus the District of Columbia), and why that is and why it’s a good idea.  I’ll leave those for the ad nauseum discussions on social media, talk radio, and between television political evangelists.

I will point out, however, that if we, as a nation, wish to do away with the College entirely, then those who support such an action should begin the work to amend the Constitution.  We will then have a national debate in the Congress and, if necessary, the ratification process as each state decides on its own.

But, in the meantime, if we wish to make things more ‘democratic,’ there is something we can do.

You see, in our system, each state has the power to figure out how their Electoral College votes are pledged.  Currently, all but two of the states do it in a ‘winner take all’ contest.  For those who don’t remember, each state gets as many Electoral College votes as it has members of Congress.  So, if a state has two members of the House of Representatives, along with the two senators that every state is allotted, it will have four Electoral College votes. Whichever of the presidential candidates gets the most votes in that state gets all of its Electoral College votes.

But there is another way that is somewhere between how things are done in most of the country and a truly national popular election.  Two states, Nebraska and Maine, allot their Electoral College votes by congressional district, with the overall state winner receiving the two votes for their senators.  For instance, Maine, which has four votes in the College, follows my above example.  It has two congressional districts and two senators.  In the 2016 election, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump split the state three votes to one, respectively.

So, why don’t we consider having each state change their election laws to follow that example?  Each of the 535 congressional districts is worth one electoral vote, and the winner of the popular vote in each state gets the two votes for its senator. The winner still has to get 270 or more votes, but the results would be more fine-grained and local than the current method, and thus more democratic.

Here are some numbers:

In the 2012 presidential election, President Obama won 332 Electoral College votes.  To do this, he won 26 states and the District of Columbia.  Mitt Romney won 206 electoral votes in 24 states.

Using data from the Daily Kos, we find that the number of votes changes if the votes are allotted by congressional district:

Obama:  (27 states * 2 votes) + 210 congressional districts = 264 Electoral College votes

Romney: (24 states * 2 votes) + 225 congressional districts = 273 Electoral College votes

Let’s take a look at 2008, where President Obama won 365 Electoral College votes from 28 states, along with the District of Columbia and one of Nebraska’s electoral votes, while John McCain won 173 votes from 22 states:

Obama:  (29 states * 2 votes) + 240 congressional districts = 298 Electoral College votes

McCain: (22 states * 2 votes) + 195 congressional districts = 239 Electoral College votes

Since congressional districts are roughly equal in population, a win in just one California congressional district is roughly equal to winning all of North Dakota.  Historically red states will have blue districts, and vice versa.  This will allow for a more democratic representation of the will of the people, while still rewarding the winner of the popular vote in each state.  It will also break up things like the “Solid South” and the “Blue Wall”.

This is a compromise between what we have now, which a vocal portion of our citizenry is not happy with, and a wholesale scrapping of an institution which has worked for over 200 years.  It is also something that can be tried without a constitutional amendment, which can take decades.  Perhaps it’s time the states took back control of the presidential election and let their electoral votes be decided in a more local manner.

4 Comments

  1. It would also force candidates to campaign for votes outside the cities.

    BTW, two electors from WA said they would not vote for HRC under any circumstances, not sure how that works.

  2. JFM

     /  November 18, 2016

    I started studying the Electoral College after the 2008 election and came up with the same idea. At the very least it should make the parties and candidates work harder.

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