• Tyler

In The Upcoming Election, What is Your Vote Worth?

In a previous article from The National Watch (“The Electoral College v. the Popular Vote”, August 12, 2019), we explored the concept of the Electoral College, its shortfalls, and controversial history. In a presidential election year, one cannot help but wonder, what would happen if the Electoral College was based on population only?

As a refresher, there are 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs, with a simple majority of 270 votes required to win the presidency. The Electoral College distribution of votes is based on each state’s total number of congresspersons, including House members and Senators. The outliers to this rule being Washington D.C., which gets three Electoral College votes as a district, not a state, and US territories, which are not represented in the general election. Typically, the popular vote winner of each state in the general election gets all of the respective Electoral College votes for the state. By having smaller states get votes by their minimum two Senators plus their limited House members, it can skew the proportion of votes per person. By giving each state a base vote of two, then adding a number of votes based on their House representation, smaller states gain an upper hand in voting power per citizen versus very populous states, but what are the actual numbers? What if the Electoral College was strictly based on population?

For the purposes of this research, we used the data from the most recent presidential election year, 2016. We also assumed each state's Electoral College representation would stay the same in the 2020 election for comparison purposes. For this analysis, we also assumed that each state would be allowed to have one vote minimum. In 2016, there were an estimated 323,127,513 total people in the United States of America (US Census). If we split the 538 Electoral College votes amongst the population, it would mean that each vote would represent 600,609 people. It is important to also note that the US Constitution explicitly states that it is up to each state how to give out their Electoral votes, and there is a coalition of states actively seeking to create a system where the popular vote winner gets a majority of Electoral College votes. Of course, there are efforts to end the system altogether; however, a bipartisan act of Congress to adjust the Constitution itself is a highly unlikely event.

A typical argument made about the Electoral College is that states could just write their laws to distribute votes somewhat proportionally to the results of the state’s popular vote, similar to Maine and Nebraska. But what if the state already has too many Electoral College votes, or too few, based on its proportion of the country’s population?

So, let’s start looking at the states, and which ones would be more, less, or the same in terms of representation in our theoretical change.

The 27 States (including DC) That Lose Out:

We are sorry to have to break the news to rural New England, The Plains, part of the Deep South, and the Capitol itself that you will be losing Electoral College votes. In fact, this voting block will lose, collectively, 38 votes of the 538, or more than 7%. The biggest loser is a tie between 11 states with 2 electoral votes lost each.

The 13 States That Win Out:

Congratulations to the Atlantic Coast, the great lakes, and states along the southern border. Everything is bigger in Texas, especially the number of Electoral College votes you will be gaining (8, to be exact). This voting block will gain 38 votes overall. The biggest winner is California, gaining 10 votes.

The 11 States That, Well, Stay the Same:

There is nothing wrong with staying the same… consistency can be a virtue. The Bay State - the birthplace of the revolution, the great state of Louisiana, the rocky state of Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest, amongst others, all get to stay exactly the same. The Electoral College, whether by the current system, or our own hypothetical measure, will have the exact same representation across these 11 states.

A Deeper Analysis

When we look closer at the average representation of all citizens per Electoral College vote (600,609 people), we start to see some remarkable ratios of actual votes to population. Here are the extremes: the state of Wyoming, our least populous state, with less people than the city of Washington, D.C., has 585,501 residents. Not only is that less than the average number of people per Electoral vote, but when splitting those residents amongst their three Electoral College votes, every 195,167 residents get a vote. In the state of Texas, every 733,226 residents gets a vote. This is typically considered the root issue of the Electoral College system. Why should 1 person in Wyoming count as much as every 4 people in Texas? One could argue these states vote similarly for the same party in presidential elections, but this is arguably unfair for everyone. If the Electoral College was split up based on our criteria, one Electoral College vote in Wyoming would count for 585,501 people. Texas would have 1 vote equal to 605,708 people. 

Thirty-two of the fifty states have proportional representation within 0.25% of the range between their share of Electoral College votes to the overall total, and their population share of their state to the overall country. For example, The State of Mississippi has 2,988,726 residents. As a percentage of the country, they have 0.92% of the population. Meanwhile, their 6 Electoral College votes, divided amongst the total available, is equal to 1.12%, for a difference of 0.20%. They would go from 6 current Electoral College votes to 5 in our system. It was mentioned earlier that approximately 38 votes (7%) of all Electoral College votes would be taken from a collective 27 states and given to 13 states. This may seem like a small number, but is equal to the entire existing Electoral College representation of Texas. The 23 smallest states (including DC) have a combined population similar to the State of California (about 40 million people each). These 23 states, plus DC, had 102 Electoral College votes in 2016 while California had 55. Our hypothetical system gives these 23 territories 68 votes, to California’s 65.

This issue impacts states of all political leanings. So, as we enter another presidential election year, the question to ask yourself is simple: do you think you are fairly represented? Should smaller states be able to have more control of the overall presidency in order to ensure larger states or densely populated centers cannot control the outcome of the race? Were the three elections in which the national popular vote winner did not win the Electoral College, and in turn the presidency, fair?

- Tyler, The National Watch

Our data used is below: