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Why the U.S. Electoral College Is Undemocratic (With Statistical Analysis)

Larry Rankin attempts to discern the logic, or lack thereof, in various, topical social issues.

I remember learning the concept of “One person, one vote” in grade school. I remember learning that by definition a democracy is a collective group governed by the majority. Then I remember scratching my head as the teacher completely contradicted our country’s definition by proceeding to explain to us that in order to become president of the United States you don’t even have to receive the majority of votes.

Even kids can tell that the Electoral College system we use in the U.S. is screwy, yet we keep right on with it, business as usual. What if I told you that your vote this November very likely won’t matter? What if I told you a vote in California is worth far less than a vote in Rhode Island? What if I told you I had undeniable mathematical proof that what I say is fact?

Would you say I hate America? Would you call me a scumbag, an anarchist, a terrorist? I’m always taken aback by folks who say things like, “If you think this country is so awful, then why don’t you just leave?” Do they not realize that often the people who are questioning things are the only ones that actually care?

Whether you think I’m patriot or pariah, if you’re willing to muddle through just a little math with me today, I’ll do my best to demonstrate to you why our current system for electing our most hallowed offices, President and Vice President, is catastrophically flawed on the very most fundamental level: the way we credit votes.

Breakdown of Electoral Votes Per State

Breakdown of Electoral Votes Per State

Breakdown of the Electoral College:

The Electoral College functions as follows: All 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. combine for 538 electors because there are 100 Senators and 435 Representatives in Congress for some reason, and if you add those together, you get 535. Each state is given the number of electoral votes equal to the combined number of Senators and Representatives in the State because the 12th Amendment says so. Washington, D.C., not technically being a member of any state, gets 3 electors because the smallest states have 3 Congressman and the 23rd Amendment tells us that it has to get as much say as the smallest state.

To add to the absurdity of this bizarre and arbitrary system, the presidential and vice presidential candidates who receive the most votes in a state take all of said state’s electoral votes. For example, if a candidate gets 51% of the votes from Florida, they get all 29 of that state’s electoral votes, and to me here is the kicker, the number of votes a state gets is not proportionate to its population! Yes, bigger states get more votes and smaller states get fewer (usually), but the number of electors a state gets is not based on any sound mathematical principles beyond that.

What is the result of all this foolishness? The most recent example is the 2016 presidential election in which Hilary Clinton received 48.5% of the votes and Donald Trump received 46.4% of the votes, yet won. In the history of the U.S.A., a result like the Clinton/Trump election has happened five times. Looking at the rickety structure of our Electoral College, it is a miracle it hasn’t happened more.

Table Key

Population= Estimated population of state as of 2015

Electoral= Number of electoral votes currently assigned to state

Prop= Number of electoral votes each state should have to make values proportional per capita

Disc= Discrepancy between the proportionate amount of electoral votes versus actual

%Disc= Percentage discrepancy between proportionate representation versus actual

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Underrepresentation of States in Electoral College

StatePopulationElectoralPropDisc%Disc

1. California

39,144,818

55

200.36

145.36

-72.50%

2. Texas

27,469,114

38

140.6

102.6

-72.90%

3. Florida

20,271,272

29

103.76

74.76

-72.10%

4. New York

19,795,791

29

101.33

72.33

-71.40%

5. Illinois

12,859,995

20

65.82

45.82

-69.60%

6. Pennsylvania

12,802,503

20

65.53

45.53

-69.50%

7. Ohio

11,613,423

18

59.44

41.44

-69.70%

8. Georgia

10,214,802

16

52.28

36.28

-69.40%

9. North Carolina

10,042,802

15

51.4

36.4

-70.80%

10. Michigan

9,922,576

16

50.79

34.79

-68.50%

11. New Jersey

8,958,013

14

45.85

31.85

-69.50%

12. Virginia

8,382,993

13

42.91

29.91

-69.70%

13. Washington

7,170,351

12

36.7

24.7

-67.30%

14. Arizona

6,828,065

11

34.95

23.95

-68.50%

15. Massachusetts

6,794,422

11

34.78

23.78

-68.30%

16. Indiana

6,619,680

11

33.88

22.88

-67.50%

17. Tennessee

6,600,299

11

33.78

22.78

-67.40%

18. Missouri

6,083,672

10

31.13

21.13

-67.90%

19. Maryland

6,006,401

10

30.74

20.74

-67.50%

20. Wisconsin

5,771,337

10

29.54

19.54

-66.10%

21. Minnesota

5,489,594

10

28.1

18.1

-64.40%

22. Colorado

5,456,574

9

27.93

18.93

-67.80%

23. South Carolina

4,896,146

9

25.06

16.06

-64.10%

24. Alabama

4,858,979

9

24.88

15.88

-63.80%

25. Louisiana

4,670,724

8

23.91

15.91

-66.50%

26. Kentucky

4,425,092

8

22.64

14.64

-64.70%

27. Oregon

4,028,977

7

20.62

13.62

-66.10%

28. Oklahoma

3,911,338

7

20.02

13.02

-65.00%

29. Connecticut

3,590,886

7

18.38

11.38

-61.90%

30. Iowa

3,123,899

6

15.99

9.99

-62.50%

31. Utah

2,995,919

6

15.33

9.33

-60.90%

32. Mississippi

2,992,333

6

15.32

9.32

-60.80%

33. Arkansas

2,978,204

6

15.24

9.24

-60.60%

34. Kansas

2,911,641

6

14.9

8.9

-59.70%

35. Nevada

2,890,845

6

14.8

8.8

-59.50%

36. New Mexico

2,085,109

5

10.67

5.67

-53.10%

37. Nebraska

1,896,190

5

9.71

4.71

-48.50%

38. West Virginia

1,844,128

5

9.44

4.44

-47.00%

39. Idaho

1,654,930

4

8.47

4.47

-52.80%

40. Hawai'i

1,431,603

4

7.33

3.33

-45.40%

41. New Hampshire

1,330,608

4

6.81

2.81

-41.30%

42. Maine

1,329,328

4

6.8

2.8

-41.20%

43. Rhode Island

1,056,298

4

5.41

1.41

-26.10%

44. Montana

1,032,949

3

5.29

2.29

-43.20%

45. Delaware

945,934

3

4.84

1.84

-38.00%

46. South Dakota

858,469

3

4.39

1.39

-31.70%

47. North Dakota

756,927

3

3.87

0.87

-22.40%

48. Alaska

738,432

3

3.78

0.78

-20.60%

49. Washington, D.C.

672,228

3

3.44

0.44

-12.80%

50. Vermont

626,042

3

3.2

0.2

-6.20%

51. Wyoming

586,107

3

3

0

+/-0%

Are Some States Really That Underrepresented in the Electoral College?

Yes! I was astonished to find that many states’ electoral representation was in excess of 70% deficient. For example, as the second biggest state, Texas is the most poorly represented per capita at a deficiency of 72.9%. In order for things to be proportionate, Texas would need somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 electoral votes rather than the 38 it is given. In order for California to have an appropriate per capita representation it would need something like 200 electoral votes rather than 55.

Proportionately speaking, the U.S.’s smallest state, Wyoming, with 3 electoral votes, gets more bang for its buck than any other state.

I know small states often complain about their lack of representation, but if you look at proportion, they actually have far more sway than they should. If you look at the “One person, One vote” principle that is at the very heart of a true democracy, it is the small states that spit in the face of this concept.

How Does “Winner Takes All” by State Impact Voting?

I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a liberal. I live in Oklahoma where a liberal couldn’t win in the present climate. My vote is essentially meaningless. Oklahoma’s 7 points will go to a conservative. My presidential vote thusly becomes entirely void. Come November 8th I’ll probably just save the gas and stay home.

The further negative impact of such a system is that we don’t get a true picture of what the people really want. For example, if California is so liberal that a conservative presidential candidate can’t win, and the public knows this, than a lot of the conservatives are just going to stay home. So rather than a 60%/40% split that would represent the population accurately, we see an 80%/20% split.

And probably the biggest drawback for such a system is that it builds a great deal of apathy amongst the population towards the democratic process.

U.S. Senate in Session

U.S. Senate in Session

Farther Reaching Implications:

When one considers that the number of electoral votes, 538, is derived from the number of Senators and Representatives in the U.S., minus the 3 votes from D.C., and that the Electoral College woefully undervalues many of its states, does it not also become apparent that small states have far too much say in Congress?

What is the negative impact of this? Again, the most evident problem is that it skews the “One person, one vote” principle. And it is also yet one more way for big business to more easily buy influence. While it is hard for even a billionaire to buy a state like California, a state like Wisconsin and its less than 6 million people is much easier, while its 10 elected officials offer a lot more value per dollar than California’s 55.

The Solution Is Simple and Difficult

The solution in regards to the presidency is to just count all the votes and the candidate with the most votes wins. It’s just that simple! I don’t know about you, but I would always vote if I knew it was an actual vote and my opinion would make it out of Oklahoma for once.

The logistics of doing this is much more difficult. The 12th and 23rd Amendments would have to be negated, and for whatever reason, when an amendment stands in the way of progress, much less two, apathy always seems to win out.

In lieu of changing U.S. Amendments or in addition to it, the country would also be well served to reapportion Congress so it proportionately represented the country’s population. Again, lots of hurdles, not the least of which is at least tripling the number in Congress.

Opinion:

Final Thoughts

The whole Electoral College system in the U.S. is beyond broken. One could call it laughable, but not me. I have to live here. For me it’s just embarrassing. That our math skills are so bad that we can’t even seem to understand proportion, that collectively we can’t even grasp the definition of democracy, yet insist on calling ourselves one, it’s sad.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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