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Statistical Analysis Proving the U.S. Electoral College is Undemocratic

Updated on June 26, 2016
Larry Rankin profile image

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

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Overview:

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 | Source

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 2000 presidential election in which Al Gore received 48.4% of the votes and George W. Bush received 47.9% of the votes, yet won. In the history of the U.S.A. a result like the Gore/Bush election has happened 4 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

Underrepresentation of States in Electoral College

State
Population
Electoral
Prop
Disc
%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 Take 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.

So Why Did We Adopt a System Like this in the First Place?

It’s hard to say, but I’ll throw out a few theories, some sinister and some not.

The first idea is that before computers and things of that nature it may have just not been practical to try to tally up all the votes. It was easier to do them part by part with a point system.

My second idea is a “cheat code”. You know how game programmers know all of the weaknesses and tricks in a game they designed? Well, the people who founded this country were in the same mold of the power hungry sort that run it today, and such people almost always value winning over fair play. Knowing all the flaws makes for just the kind of unfair advantage that political types favor over true democracy.

One could argue that a system like this makes for a population that is easier to manipulate. Just some examples of how this might work: the electoral votes of less populous states are worth more per capita. It is easier to manipulate the will of a small state than a large one.

Another example, voters become alienated with the current system. Again, it’s easier to deal with a small voting public than a large one. It is easier to manipulate the will of a poorly represented population than a well represented one.

U.S. Senate in Session
U.S. Senate in Session | Source

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:

Were you convinced the Electoral College doesn't work?

See results

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.

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    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 13 months ago from Corona, California.

      I have never believed in or trusted the Electoral College.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 13 months ago from San Diego California

      I've been thinking about the Electoral College recently in light of my exhausting diatribes on the two party system. I think the Electoral College is exactly why we are stuck with a two-party system. Politicians know it would be too hard to divide up the electoral cake in so many pieces and still win an election, so they have instead coalesced into two parties, with the attending negative results for America.

      Great analysis here. I was trying to think of a soothing reason for you to go vote on election day anyway, but other than the usual meaningless pap (Exercise your right, etc.) I was drawing a blank. You're right, you might as well stay home, and maybe I will too.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 13 months ago from Oklahoma

      Gregas: thanks for the feedback.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 13 months ago from Oklahoma

      Mel: I know we've had some differing opinions of late, but I've also made it clear I agree with who you want for president. The problem, he doesn't have a party and there are only so many electoral votes.

      The Electoral College absolutely kills any chance of a three or more candidate race.

      I'll probably vote. I'm just that stubborn, but the current system is so frustrating.

      Thanks for dropping by.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 13 months ago from San Diego California

      If we have has differences I haven't noticed. Just window dressing stuff, which color curtains Bernie should hang in the Lincoln bedroom. That kind of stuff.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 13 months ago from Oklahoma

      Mel: lol, I do always enjoy your commentary. Wish I could share your optimism regarding Bernie. If there was just some magic wand could be waved to make people understand he's the only candidate gives a s*** about any of us.

      But I'm straying from the topic of this particular article. It goes beyond allegiance to any candidate. The Electoral College is just downright silly when you think about, that doesn't matter how you categorize yourself: liberal, conservative, or other.

      It's just one more bit of nonsense standing in the way a democracy.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice collection of information here, Larry! I wish the American public would wake up and actually give a damn about the voting process...demand changes and changes will come. Maybe slowly but they will come.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 13 months ago from USA

      It's a broken system alright, and you provide great information as to why. Out of principle I could never stay home on Election Day. Anyone who was denied the historical right to vote (e.g., women, African Americans) MUST out of sheer principle get themselves to the voting booth no matter what. I encourage others to do it too because it's the right thing.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 13 months ago from Oklahoma

      Billy: even just the way elected officials just instate massive changes without consulting us is so frustrating to me.

      I understand that we can't be a part of every mundane detail, and that sometimes emergencies require quick actions, but I'm talking about huge changes being made without consulting us.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 13 months ago from Oklahoma

      FlourishAnyway: I vote, especially for local stuff, but the way the presidency is done is so beyond frustrating. The worth of votes from state to state varies wildly, and because it's a winner take all system, if you live in a state where 80% of the population is on the other side of things from you, you're vote literally doesn't matter.

      That said, I'll still probably get out and vote. If for nothing else, in respect for the freedom to. I just wish that freedom wasn't tread upon by the absurdity of the Electoral College.

      Thanks for dropping by. I always enjoy your feedback.

    • norlawrence profile image

      Norma Lawrence 12 months ago from California

      Very good article. I have never liked the Electoral College. It does not seem fair.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 12 months ago from Oklahoma

      Lawrence: it absolutely isn't fair.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

    • jgshorebird profile image

      jgshorebird 12 months ago from Southeastern U.S.

      As always, your hubs make me think.

      However, the solution is not a pure democracy. We must remember the why. Why the founders, as imperfect as they were and as imperfect as we are today -- did what they did. And why the college developed. It was an effort to try not to devolve into a dictatorship by the majority.

      A democratic republic, with a constitution was an attempt to thwart gang rule and of course, Kings. I feel you are asking for a return to the past. We must be careful not to throw the baby out, even if the baby crapped his diaper and has a rash.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 12 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for sharing an excellent hub where you make a good argument with your statistical analysis. May I ask why you are a liberal and have you been one all of your life? I am sharing this hub with HP followers.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 12 months ago from Oklahoma

      Paul: thanks for your support.

      I'm a liberal because I think we accomplish more by helping one another than helping ourselves.

      Not that there is anything wrong with helping ourselves, but in my opinion, a dominant conservative presence tries to do so exclusively.

    • profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 12 months ago

      Larry

      Having read this I'm glad that we have a 'multi party' democracy here in New Zealand and it seems to work.

      Having an 'electoral college' to me seems to work on one vote for approx every 700,000 votes and that (to me) means that out of every 700,000 if one party gets 360,000 of those votes they get the 'one seat' the college allows for, but that means if they get it in all the 'college seats' they get all the votes regardless of the fact that a large portion didn't vote for that!

      Over here we have 'proportional representation' in that everyone gets TWO votes, one for the local candidate and one for the party.

      To cross the threshold for getting a seat all the 'little guy' has to do is get 5% of the vote or win a local seat (it gives them two chances at a voice) and the system works.

      It was Churchill said "Democracy is a terrible form of government, but it's better than all the others"

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 12 months ago from Corona, California.

      There have been at least 2 presidents that should have been in by popular vote but made it because of the electoral college.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 12 months ago from Oklahoma

      Lawrence: I'm always interested to see how othe countries do things. To me, though, the best method is to just count the darn votes and give the seat to the person with the most of them.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 12 months ago from Oklahoma

      Gregas: to me it is a miracle that it hasn't happened more.

      Thanks for dropping by.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 12 months ago from Corona, California.

      I just looked it up, and it is actually at least 4 times. The latest was Busch/Gore in 2000. Before that, Adams/Jackson in 1824. Hayes/Tilden in 1876. Harrison/Cleveland in 1888. From "Ask Fact Check".

    • profile image

      Paul 9 months ago

      I agree the current electoral college system is out of whack. Given this, I think a version of it should continue, perhaps on a county level giving a proportionate amount of the college votes to a candidate.

      The reason for this thought is so that a sample of the population does not override the rights of the others. The problem is that there are too many outlier states which hold a large population and therefore control the current electoral system. An outright popular vote still does not address the issue where people in a lower populated state will not affect the election, they may as well not even vote when compared to a state like Texas or California.

      The founders saw this and made a system which was fine in 1782 but has its flaws at this time. One of the great things about our Constitution is that it is a living document.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 9 months ago from Oklahoma

      Paul: thanks for chiming in.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 6 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Great work with the charts, Larry.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 6 months ago from Oklahoma

      Rebelogilbert: thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      GregAnton 5 months ago

      Ohio gets tons of money from the treasury because every Congressman and Senator wants Ohioans to vote their way

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 5 months ago from Oklahoma

      It's such an unnecessary and asinine system. It doesn't matter what party your in or how you vote, this system can't be justified.

      I wrote this article before the recent presidential election. It wasn't in response to what happened. It was just to point out an obvious glitch in the system.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 3 months ago from Oakley, CA

      I have been saying for YEARS, now that the electoral college system needs to go away. One person, one vote, period!

      (Another way the Bush/Gore debacle was mismanaged/cheated, if you will, was the Florida vote. You'll recall the 'hanging chads' issue, and the recount that was ordered. The fault here was that there was not a sufficiently reasonable TIME allowed to do a by-hand recount, so Gore lost the state, when he might actually have won.)

      Furthermore, to be quite technical, we don't have a real 'Democracy;' what we have is a 'Democratic Republic.' There was a story told about someone asking Benjamin Franklin, at the conclusion of the first Continental Congress, "Well, what do we have?" His reply, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

      Prophetic words, indeed.

      I have an article on rather the same topic in the works, myself, and if you don't mind, I'd like to link to your article for the information you've given and your wonderful chart.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 3 months ago from Oklahoma

      Liz: And I would add that this isn't a Republican Democrat issue. True the Republicans have benefited the last 2 times this corrupt system has elected the wrong person, but it's just a matter of time before the shoe is on the other foot.

      I'm glad to be linked to your article.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 3 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Furthermore, Ohio has fewer votes than the six states ahead of it; so I have never understood why it's such a big deal for candidates. You would think Any of the first six, and particularly the first two, with their higher count of votes, would be given that kind of priority. But no, it's Ohio, and little New Hampshire that get all the pre-vote hoopla! SMH

      (And with the last go-round, after Bernie was cheated, I felt I'd do as well to write in Snoopy or Mickey Mouse--they could hardly do worse than the buffoon who was INSTALLED! Not elected, mind you; installed is the exact word I meant to use.)

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      Liz: a buffoon appointed to any office, no matter how high, is still a buffoon, lol.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Very true; but at this point, I'm considering retracting that characterization, so as not to insult the buffoons!

      This man is evil incarnate.

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