Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Electoral College question: what if we didn't give affirmative action to people in underpopulated states?

OK, political junkies. Here's a fun one.

What if we didn't invest people who choose to live in underpopulated states affirmative action in the Electoral College? Would this oh-so-close presidential race be that close?

(I promise, I have not yet done the math. I just have a suspicion.)

Quick background. The Electoral College (the dumbest college on the planet) allocates one electoral vote to each Member of Congress per state -- not just the per-population House but also the 2-per-state Senate. That's why the fewest electoral votes per state is 3, and not 1. Just like the U.S. Senate gives enormous affirmative action to people in underpopulated states (so *that's* why cities are underfunded. . . .), so too does the Electoral College 'Senate' votes per state. If there's any part of the Electoral College that is the most indefensible, it's that part.

What if we stripped away that affirmative action by simply subtracting the 2 'Senate' electoral votes for each state? What would that mean for the presidential race?

First, instead of 538 electoral votes there would be 436 (don't forget D.C. so we subtract 102 from the current 538). To win, one needs 219.

Let's see what happens to each candidate's base.

The 13 core blue Kerry states are (current electoral college votes - non-affirmative action electoral college votes):

California (53-51)
Connecticut (7-5)
Delaware (3-1)
D.C. (3-1)
Hawai'i (4-2)
Illinois (21-19)
Maryland (10-8)
Massachusetts (12-10)
New Jersey (15-13)
New Mexico (5-3)
New York (31-29)
Rhode Island (4-2)
Vermont (3-1)

If you quibble with my categorization, leave a comment.

So the Kerry base of 13 states shifts from 171/538 (31.8% of the total) to 145/436 (33.3% of the total). About the same relative effect as winning three of the smallest states under the current electoral college (since each tiny state is 3/538 or about .5% of what it takes to win, and the relative increase in the Kerry base is a 1.5% increase in what it takes to win).

Not insignificant.

Now for the Bush base of 20 red states:

Alabama (9-7)
Alaska (3-1)
Georgia (15-13)
Idaho (4-2)
Indiana (11-9)
Kansas (6-4)
Kentucky (8-6)
Mississippi (6-4)
Montana (3-1)
Nebraska (5-3)
North Carolina (15-13)
North Dakota (3-1)
Oklahoma (7-5)
South Carolina (8-6)
South Dakota (3-1)
Tennessee (11-9)
Texas (34-32)
Utah (5-3)
Virginia (13-11)
Wyoming (3-1)

Bush shifts from 172/538 (32.0% of what it takes to win) to 132/436 (30.3% of what it takes to win). Basically, Bush loses two small states.

So the affirmative action for underpopulated states is worth the equivalent of flipping one or two of the tiny states the size of DuPage County from Bush to Kerry.

For a more sophisticated mathematical analysis, or a prettier website, you go make one. Or get the guys that make sites like www.electoral-vote.com to do it.

It's so overdue to get rid of this feature of the Electoral College.

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