Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Electoral College Imbalance - Some Votes Are Worth Less

 Now that we're finally entering the official phase of this seemingly endless Presidential election season, I thought that I'd take a look at the electoral college system and how imbalanced it is becoming. has an intriguing analysis of the 2008 election, looking at the number of voters per electoral college vote for each state.  This analysis shows that certain states have far more voters for each electoral vote, meaning that the voters in these states have less impact on the end result than their underpopulated, over-represented counterparts.

For my readers that aren't familiar with the arcane voting system that is used in the United States, here is a symmary of the Electoral College which was established in the U.S. Constitution.  When voters in the U.S. vote for their presidential choice, ballots show the names of the presidential and vice presidential candidates, however, voters are actually electing a slate of "electors" that represent them in each state.  It is these electors that combine to form the Electoral College.  The number of electors was last set in 1964 and is equal to the number of Senators plus the number of Congressmen/women and currently stands at 438 plus 100.  Each state is allowed a number of electors that is equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always two) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives, a number that may change every ten years based on changes in population.  These electors are selected by each political party at the state level and they must not be members of the Senate or Congress.  The electors are generally considered to be "free agents" since only 29 states require these loyal party supporters to vote as they have pledged.  After the election day votes are counted, the party that wins the most votes in each state appoints all of the electors for that state ("winner-takes-all").  The electors cast their votes in mid-December and the sealed votes are then sent to the president of the United States Senate.  These sealed votes are opened on January 6th in the year following the presidential election.  To be elected as president, a candidate must have an absolute majority (50 percent plus one) of the electoral votes for that position.  It isn't until noon on January 20th that the elected president and vice president are sworn into office, two and a half months after the election.

Let's look at the analysis starting with the national picture.  On average in 2004, each of the 538 electoral votes was backed by 545,828 individual voters.  By 2008, population increases had raised this number to 565,166.

Now let's look at the state level representation per electoral vote for the 2008 election:

The higher the "% vs. Nat. Avg." the more imbalance there is.  For instance, Wyoming, with a 2008 population of only 532,668, had three electoral votes for an average of 177,556 voters per electoral vote.  When compared to the national average, Wyoming's individuals were "worth" 318 percent more than the national population versus number of electoral votes average.  Other states with far lower voters per electoral vote are the District of Columbia (286%), Vermont (273%), North Dakota (264%), Alaska (247%), Rhode Island (215%) and South Dakota (211%).  Looking at the other side of the issue, Texas has the greatest number of voters per electoral vote; with a population of 24,326,974 and only 34 electoral votes for an average of 715,499 voters per electoral vote.  This works out to each individual vote being "worth" only 79 percent of the national average.  Other states that have far more voters per electoral vote are Florida (83%), California (85%), Arizona (87%) and Georgia (88%).

If we step aside for a moment, we can see from the 1988 election how imbalanced the system has become.  In that election, the combined voting age population of the seven least populous jurisdictions in Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming (a total of 3,119,000 voters) carried the same strength of 21 Electoral College votes as the entire voting population of Florida, all 9,614,000 voters.

Going back to the study, in 2008, 36 out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia had the weight of their individual votes being worth more than the national average when measured using population versus the number of electoral votes.

There are some obvious problems with the Electoral College system as it currently exists.  From this analysis, one can quite quickly see that smaller, generally more rural states have far more Electoral College votes per person than the larger, more populous states.  On the other hand, the states with far more electoral votes tend to get more attention from presidential candidates since there is more at stake.  On top of this imbalance, the Electoral College can completely negate the will of the majority; as the 2000 election and 15 other occasions since the founding of the Electoral College have proven.  The Electoral College proves that the electors are quite capable of not representing the national popular will  Somehow, it just doesn't seem right that, in a two party system, the winner is really not determined by the individual voter.  Perhaps it is really is time to rethink the current system.


  1. I am surprised people are not more outraged by the electoral college. When I was living in Washington it seemed meaningless to vote for President because the outcome is predetermined in favor of democrats. The presidential candidates spend all of their time in five or six states.

  2. As a European citizen and more used to a representative democracy, this whole system just baffles me!

  3. USA desperately needs a new constitution which will happen never.

  4. You have to realize the small states were reluctant to go in on the USA in the 18th century without the compromise of a Senate (which is equally divergent in its proportionality) and the electoral college. There were -- and there remain -- legitimate reasons for this system.
    sign me ... A Vermonter

  5. Why don't you just have a referendum on it?