Proof The Electoral College Works

by Christopher Paul on November 10, 2012


Every four years after each presidential election, I always find some post, tweet, or article questioning the Electoral College. Either people don’t seem to understand it, don’t understand America is a republic, or just saw their candidate lose and are ranting like a crazy person. It’s never going to change unless we toss out the Constitution.

I happen to think the EC is a great system. It’s designed to strike a balance between states with large populations and smaller ones. Each state – whether their population is 9 or 900,000 – starts out with the same amount of electoral votes: three. Even Washington D.C. gets that amount. By design, the number of electoral votes is equal to the sum of the number of Senate seats plus the number of seats in the House of Representatives. Obviously, more populous states have more representatives and they have more electoral votes. The physical size of the state is irrelevant (this is an important point I’ll bring up later).

Each state can decide how to use their votes. Almost all of them allocate their their entire pool of EC votes to who ever won the popular vote; if California votes 51% Republican, all 55 votes go to that person. Some, however, allocate a portion of their votes based on how their citizens votes; if a state has four votes, three can go to one candidate and a remaining could given to the next most popular candidate. Some states force their electoral voters to vote by the person who got the most votes. Others don’t have any law forcing an electoral voter from voting the way the people chose (though it’s still customary to do so). If memory serves me correct, there was once a time when a voting member voted against the will of the state causing an uproar. Nevertheless, states decide how their votes are allocated and it isn’t uniform across all states. This is an important part of the EC because it goes to the state vs federal powers that the founding fathers were so concerned about.

Most of the time, the popular vote is roughly in sync with the electoral vote. Or, at least, the President-elect won more EC votes and more popular votes. Obviously, in 2000, the system experienced a rare outcome where the popular vote was greater than the electoral vote. It all came down to chads, lawyers, and a conservative Supreme Court. When this happens, people freak out over the Electoral College and threaten all sorts of things like revolution, secession, to my personal favorite: moving to Canada. Even when things go right, people can be confused by the dominance of one color on a map if that color also loses the election. It appears as if the loser was robbed by the failures of the Electoral College.

As I alluded to above, the size of a state isn’t factored at all when tabulating the electoral votes. Remember, it’s the people that are represented. not the land. But the map makes people think a small section of the country (mostly the East and West Coasts) dominate the election when they shouldn’t because they look so small compared to the middle. Furthermore, the northeast is often blue when the south is red which only adds to the confusion.

When we scale the map of the United States to correlate to the population, however, we see a very different picture. In the images above you can see how that plays out. The very top image is, clearly, the map of the United States and the most recent election results. Red is the dominate color though the blue states won. The second and middle map is the US skewed by population. Geographical lines bulge or collapse based on how many people live in the state. Notice how small Montana, Idaho, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas become. Even Vermont shrinks.

The third and bottom image is that same concept but not based on population. This one is weighted by the number of electoral votes a state has. California looks roughly the same. It’s actually a tad smaller than the map which correlates to population. Also notice that Vermont – and those northwestern states are larger in the “Electoral” map vs the “population” map. Utah is another state which appears larger. In fact, the map based on population has significantly less red than the bottom map.

What this means is that the Electoral College is actually doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s giving a larger voice to states who don’t have concentrated populations. If it were failing, the “EC” map would look like the “popular” map or, worse, have those less populous states disappear. But why do we care about less populous states? Shouldn’t we still let the people decide?

Sure, we can. But because those states up north, which are rural, won’t have the same representation the urban states do. Those larger, urban, populations set the tone for the country. Farm subsidies would be a thing of the past. Money, infrastructure, and even major projects would all go to the cities. The less populous states would get shafted. Maybe we want that… but I doubt Wisconsin would be happy about such a change.

The Electoral College is a brilliant method of electing a President. Not only is it fun to see how many ways elections can be won, it’s a fair way to give “smaller” states more say in how the President is chosen. This picture proves that to be true.

The map came from Science News.

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