(Electoral) College Math

Whatever the reasons for its creation, historically speaking, it seemed fairly obvious to me and every other non-Republican in the wake of the 2000 election that the Electoral College was a filter that distorted the core principles of democracy.  After all, when the majority votes were cast for an American who wasn't sworn in as president, there's something seriously wrong with the system.

The numbers weren't as close the next time around, but following the 2004 presidential election, I looked at just what the "exchange rate" might be for electoral votes from one state to the next.  Clearly they weren't even.

Basically, I divided the population of each state* by the number of electoral votes it was allotted.  I compared those numbers to give me a base figure to allow the normalization of the original set so as to compare states.  (Normalization is relative to population of the entire country vs. total number of electoral votes.)

What I found was that the best state to be in mathematically (i.e., where your individual vote theoretically counts the most toward influencing an electoral vote) is Wyoming.  In that spacious state, the smallest population in the country is coupled with the automatic three (i.e., two for your senators, one for your lone state rep) electoral votes to yield 3.24 times the normalized national average per capita.  Like Wyoming, DC gets the minimum three electoral votes of its own, so it was the runner up for parallel reasons, its own minuscule population (kept in check, of course, by the high murder rates) giving it 2.88 times the average.  By contrast, the worst states were Texas and California, each being 0.831 and 0.838, respectively.

It took until 1965 for the Voting Rights Act to actually grant the freedom to vote to most adult Americans who have always (i.e., Constitutionally) been granted that right.  And yet that same document (i.e., the Constitution) ensures through the Electoral College that not everyone's vote counts equally.  In a country ostensibly founded on principles of equality this is worse than talk of slaves being 3/5ths of a man.  In this case, Texans are actually only worth a little more than a quarter of a Wyoman (or whatever they call them), at least when it comes to exercising their most fundamental right as Americans in influencing an election.

Granted, the disparity in popular vote vs. electoral vote numbers themselves does not immediately announce which way the advantage falls.  For example, the above example is sort of ludicrous anyway as both Texas and Wyoming are overwhelmingly Republican.  And the extremes presented earlier both feature opposing extremes in and of themselves, with Democratic California almost as severely skewed traditionally Republican Texas just as Wyoming's advantage is tempered by Democratic DC's numbers.

What is perhaps more important here is the inherent ambiguity depending on which side some of the so-called swing states fall in a given year.  I'm not enough of a political scientist or a historian to know how to read through those figures, least of all at this point when the primaries aren't yet concluded in this most-undecided of years.  However, when a system like the Electoral College exists, it allows the favoring of one party or the other in any year, and that is inexcusable.  No matter how you do the math, the indisputable fact remains that not all votes are created equal when it comes to deciding the President of the United States.

*Note: Calculations were derived based on the state populations reported for 2003.  No special considerations were included for the portion of said populations that was of legal voting age, registered to vote, had a sitter the night of the election, etc.

If anyone is interested in examining the numbers more closely and/or performing additional calculations, the Excel spreadsheet containing the raw data and these calculations can be downloaded from here.

Additional information about the Electoral College (including arguments for and against its abolition) can be found at Wikipedia.

Below are the rest of the figures in case you are interested how much or how little your vote counts on average.  (Note: As is addressed above, this really only counts if you're in something of a swing state, and, more specifically, only if you're in Florida.)

Wyoming = 3.235
DC = 2.878
Vermont = 2.619
North Dakota = 2.558
South Dakota = 2.122
Rhode Island = 2.009
Delaware = 1.984
Montana = 1.767
Hawaii = 1.719
New Hampshire = 1.679
Maine = 1.656
Idaho = 1.582
West Virginia = 1.493
New Mexico = 1.442
Iowa = 1.285
Kansas = 1.191
Arkansas = 1.190
Utah = 1.149
Mississippi = 1.126
Connecticut = 1.086
Louisiana = 1.082
Alabama = 1.081
Oklahoma = 1.078
Minnesota = 1.068
Oregon = 1.063
Kentucky = 1.050
South Carolina = 1.043
Missouri = 1.042
Tennessee = 1.018
Massachusetts = 1.008
Wisconsin = 0.988
Maryland = 0.981
Washington = 0.970
Arizona = 0.969
North Carolina = 0.964
Indiana = 0.960
Virginia = 0.951
Ohio = 0.945
New Jersey = 0.939
Georgia = 0.934
Pennsylvania = 0.918
Michigan = 0.912
Illinois = 0.897
New York = 0.873
Florida = 0.858
California = 0.838
Texas = 0.831