Electing Presidents – Part II: Change the Electoral College

February 5’s post outlined some issues relating to the way we currently elect the president. Today’s post presents some possible alternatives. I understand the GOP’s frustration with the Electoral College. The winner-take-all system lacks fairness and is a relic. Changing it would improve our democracy. However, the congressional-district system some GOPers are pushing isn’t ideal either because most states’ districts are rural, not urban. Citizens in many urban districts would find themselves disenfranchised by small town and rural community populations, the minority deciding the outcome of elections. This scenario provides traction for instituting the national popular vote.

Election reformers have been pushing for a National Popular Vote (NPV) bill for years. States would give their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote. Nine states have signed on to the NPV bill that preserves the Electoral College and allows states to retain control over elections. I’ll go into more depth about NPV next week as well as its pros and cons.

One argument against using the popular vote is that most Americans are ignorant of the issues. So what? Many regular voters are ignorant of the issues. How many times have any of us voted for someone at the local or state level, knowing very little about them except for party affiliation? And is that so bad if one is familiar with the party platform and agrees with it?

In an ideal world we would all be highly informed citizens. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, so we work with what we have. Regardless of how informed one is—and some will take issue with that—we should be expanding the franchise, not shrinking it.

Still, rural folks don’t want to feel left out of the process either, which is why the popular vote is a better option, or change the Electoral College to reflect the popular vote in each state. For example: State A has 10 electoral votes. One candidate receives 60% of the popular vote; the other candidate receives 30%. The 60% candidate receives 6 electoral votes and the 30% one receives 3.* The media may have to wait a little longer to call the winner, rather than calling the election within hours of precinct closings, but this would be a more representative reflection of the popular vote.

I compiled data**—electoral votes and popular votes from each state for each candidate (from the two major political parties only)—from the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections. Per the data and as an example, in 2012, President Obama received 332 electoral votes and 51.1% of the popular vote to Romney’s 206 electoral votes and 47.2% of the popular vote. There are 538 electoral votes total. 270 electoral votes are required to win. Obama won 61.7% of the 538 electoral votes to Romney’s 38.3%. This is hardly reflective of the race: Obama did not beat Romney by this margin.

However, when I did the calculations based on popular vote per state and took the percentage of votes each candidate received and split the electoral votes between them instead of giving them all to the winning candidate, the outcome was much more in sync with the popular vote. Obama had 272 electoral votes or 50.5% of the total and Romney had 257 electoral votes or 47.8% of the total. These electoral vote percentages are consistent with the popular vote results.

Data for each election analyzed:

 2012 Election Results

2008 Election Results

2004 Election Results

I also examined the 2000 and 1984 presidential races. The electoral and popular vote percentages lined up quite accurately in the 2000 contest, despite George W. Bush losing the popular vote. However, the 1984 race is a perfect example of how skewed the results can be when comparing electoral votes to the popular vote. Reagan did not win 97.6% of the popular vote.

2000 and 1984 Presidential Races

Admittedly, a process of divvying up electoral votes would take longer to calculate and apportion before calling a winner. Plus if we go to this much trouble trying to ensure electoral votes are representative of the popular vote, shouldn’t we eliminate the Electoral College and use the popular vote instead?

These more representative options are worth considering and would give Americans a real stake in presidential elections. Furthermore, it would force candidates and their campaign staff to reach out to all Americans, not only those in swing states. People would then recognize their vote does matter and engage in the process, resulting in increased voter turnout. That’s good for democracy.

* This scenario would need to incorporate third-party candidates, but for demonstration purposes here, only the two major-party candidates are included.

** Data gathered from Wikipedia


One thought on “Electing Presidents – Part II: Change the Electoral College

  1. Pingback: Evergreen Up-Late: Greatest Hits Edition | Everblog

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