Election Math (Minorities and Majorities)

It’s almost Election Day and it’s not going to be pretty. If Biden wins, Trump will make accusations of fraud and cheating. If Trump wins, it will be the same way he won four years ago: by losing the popular vote and winning the Electoral College. 

Discussions of eliminating the Electoral College are pointless. Such changes would require a constitutional amendment and is unlikely (if not impossible) in today’s political climate. Instead, let’s examine the validity of the greatest argument in favor of keeping the Electoral College: it protects the minority from the majority. 

Sure, this was the original intention: it gave southern (less populated) states more of a say in federal matters. Without it, northern states would dominate elections and control southern affairs without any vested interest. As a nation we’ve grown since then. Literally speaking, there are 130 times more people living in America than when the Constitution was ratified. Figuratively, we’ve extended voting rights to women, racial minorities, and people who don’t own homes. We have grown less segregated and more diverse. 

The sociopolitical leanings of our citizenry have also become more integrated. Poverty and absurd wealth infect all fifty states. There are liberal towns and cities in conservative states. There are conservative communities and regions in liberal states. We are a blended nation from the Key West to Point Hope. Battle lines were easily drawn during the Civil War; factions divided along state lines and popular ideologies adhered to geography. If the Civil War began today, battle lines would not be as clear as they were 160 years ago. Neighbors would find themselves on opposing sides of battle. 

Yet we still believe the Electoral College protects the minority from the majority. But does it? 

How well does the Electoral College protect the conservative minorities of California and New York from their liberal majorities? How well does the Electoral College protect the liberal minorities of Kentucky and Wyoming from their conservative majorities? Did the 943 thousand Trump voters in Maryland have any influence on the ten electorates who pledged their votes to Clinton? Did the 420 thousand Clinton voters in Oklahoma have any influence on the three electorates who pledged their votes to Trump? The answer to my first two questions are not at all, and the answer to the other two are no.
Image courtesy of Tree Hugger

Four years ago, I was living in Idaho. A vote for Clinton wouldn’t have mattered because the state is solidly red. All four or their Electoral College votes were going to go to Trump regardless of who I voted for. This year, I live in Washington. If I wanted to vote for Trump, it won’t matter because all twelve of this state’s Electoral College votes will go to Biden. 

People keep saying the Electoral College votes protect the smaller population of states like Idaho from larger populaces in states like Washington. In the end though, states like these don’t matter in this system. Before the polls close, we know states like Alabama and North Dakota will be wins for the Republican candidate while states like Oregon and Massachusetts will vote for the Democratic candidate. Presidential candidates could ignore most states and still win because voting patterns are predictable. The Electoral College has solidified votes in those states to the point the end result is an inevitable conclusion. This is true everywhere except the swing states. Under the Electoral College, the only states where your vote matters are swing states like Nevada, Florida, and Ohio. 

Since eliminating the Electoral College is practically impossible, maybe it’s time to revise how it works. What if we tweaked it in a way we could still use the constitutionally mandated system while ensuring it better represents its constituency? What if there was a way for the Electoral College to better protect minorities and actually reflect the will of the people? Two states already do: Nebraska and Maine. These states use a district method which allows them to split their electoral votes between two candidates so their Electoral College more accurately resembles choices made inside their voting booths. What if all states adopted similar methods? 

Let’s go back to Idaho. Trump earned 409 thousand votes over Clinton’s 189 thousand votes. The end percentages left Trump with nearly 60% of Idaho’s popular vote, but Clinton got 28%. If one in four Idaho voters voted Clinton, giving all four Electoral College votes to the candidate who only won 59.2% does not match how the state voted. Clinton got 25% of the total votes; she should have also received 25% of the Electoral College. Other candidates like Evan McMullin and Gary Johnson didn’t garner enough votes to earn a whole Electoral College vote, so the remaining three should have gone to Trump. Idaho’s Electoral College awarding one vote to Clinton and three to Trump is a better representation of the Gem State than what actually happened in 2016. 

What about a more liberal state? In Vermont, Trump won 30% of the vote to Clinton’s 57% and all three Electoral College votes went to Clinton. If the state divided their electoral votes with a district method, Clinton would have got two votes and Trump would have received one. 

What about swing states? Nearly three million people voted in Wisconsin and the difference between the winner and loser was 22 thousand votes. If only 0.76% of Trump voters had selected Clinton instead, the state would have had a different winner. The same is true in Michigan where the difference between the top two candidates was only ten thousand out of 4.8 million voters; 0.22% of the vote sealed their fate. They were statistical ties with Clinton and Trump getting 47% of the popular vote in both states. With the district method, this even match could have been demonstrated in the Electoral College with a tie vote there. Wisconsin’s 10 votes could have been split 50/50 and the same could happen with Michigan’s 16 votes. 

Finally, what about close votes in states with an odd number in the Electoral College like Colorado? There, Clinton’s 48% beat Trump’s 43%. It’s close to a tie but Clinton clearly won. You can’t split Colorado’s nine votes evenly so the advantage should go to the state’s winner. If Clinton took five Electoral College votes and Trump got four, this result would provide a truer representation of Coloradans. 

Because I’m a nerd with an analytical disposition who likes numbers and statistics, I have crunched the data and retabulated the 2016 results. In my revisionist history, Clinton receives 275 Electoral College votes and Trump loses with 263. In the end, this maintains the uses of the Electoral College system and matches the popular vote. Votes would matter everywhere, not just swing states. It’s a win win for democracy. 

We all know reality took a different turn. My proposal isn’t going to change any results this coming Tuesday. However, if you try to defend our current system by claiming it protects the minority from the majority, I will tell you you’re wrong. The Electoral College alienates the minority from the majority. Don’t believe me? Just as a Trump supporter in Hawaii if their vote is represented in the Electoral College.

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