Friday, May 05, 2006

Electoral College reform--is it time?

Are you tired of frantically searching for the latest polls from Ohio and Florida every presidential election?

Are you tired of corrupt Republican secretaries of state having more power than millions of voters when it comes to deciding who is "elected" President?

Have you taken up residence in a solid red state and grown tired of your vote not really mattering?

Then the following is for you.

I won't bore you with discussing various methods that have been proposed for reforming the Electoral College. If you would like a fairly thorough review, you can go here.

While abolishing the electoral college and moving to a direct election via popular vote may be the most "populist" method of solving the problems created by the Electoral College, I am not a believer in that method because it is contrary to what is essentially a mandate by the Founding Fathers that the states as a collective are responsible for electing the President. Because of this, I am a supporter of maintaining state delegations. But I am interested in ensuring that all the voters of each individual state are represented when it comes to electing the president.

With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to the proposal put before the voters of Colorado in the 2000 Presidential election. This measure--Amendment 36--would have split Colorado's Electoral Votes proportional to the percentage of the popular vote.

This measure was rejected by the citizens of Colorado. The main argument used by the opponents of the measure was that splitting Colorado's electoral votes when every other state (with the exception of Nebraska and Maine, both of which grant 2 electoral votes automatically to the state winner and award an additional vote to the winner of each Congressional District) used winner take all, would make Colorado irrelevant for the purposes of Presidential campaigning.

The way the system works is very simple, and is described in the PDF linked above. In short, the vote total for each candidate's percentage of the popular vote is multiplied by the number of electors to which the state is entitled. The resulting number is then rounded to the nearest whole number to yield the total number of electors for each candidate.

If the sumtotal of those numbers is more than the electors the state is entitled to, the candidate receiving the fewest votes has their number of votes reduced until there's a match. Similarly, if the total number of rounded votes is too few, the candidate receiving the most votes receives additional votes until one matches.

To me, this proportional representation system seemed fascinating--so I tabulated the data for the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections, and calculated what the results would have been if the whole country had been using the Amendment 36 system:



(YOU MUST HAVE MICROSOFT OFFICE WEB COMPONENTS TO VIEW THESE PAGES, SO TRY VIEWING THIS IN IE. If you don’t, email me at the address in my profile and I will be happy to send them to you. If you have Microsoft Excel and you want to save the spreadsheets locally, just hit the button that looks like a pencil with the Excel logo on it to open the spreadsheet up in Excel. Also, the 2000 sheet says 2004, but should say 2000. They are the 2000 results, and I’ll fix that very soon.)


The information presented here is in sequential order. First comes the total votes cast in each state, followed by the total number of votes for each major candidate. That is followed by the rounded number of votes for each candidate, followed in turn by a display of whether the combined votes for each candidate is greater than, less than or equal to the total number of votes to which the state is entitled. The adjustment and necessary correction is then displayed, followed by the final total.

IN ADDITION: I have included an experimental modification to the Amendment 36 system, which I have called the “Hekebolos adjustment.” I thought it was rather unfair that, in states whose electoral votes were evenly split according to the Amendment 36 system, the candidate who won the state received no advantage for doing so. To that end, in those situations I have added one vote for each candidate who won such a state and made a corresponding subtraction to the candidate who lost it. The total results with the “Hekebolos adjustment” are also shown.

The results are fascinating—to me, anyway. And it proves that the initiation of such a system would go a long way toward fixing what’s wrong with our Presidential election system.

As the spreadsheet shows, the 2004 results are rather conclusive: Bush beats Kerry 278-260 using this system (274-264 if you factor in my special adjustment), and whether or not there was rampant fraud in Ohio and Florida doesn’t change the nature of the results by any more than a couple of votes. What does matter, though, is Democratic turnout in other states.

Let’s take California, for instance. In 2004, if the Amendment 36 system had been used, Kerry would have only received 31 of California’s 55 electoral votes, compared to Bush’s 24. In 2000, by contrast—as the results in the other link show—Gore would have received 8 more votes than Bush in California, despite only 54 votes being available and Nader taking 2 electoral votes that otherwise would have gone to Gore.

The data is ripe for this type of analysis, but it clearly demonstrates that one problem the Democratic party had in 2004 was a myopic focus on Ohio and Florida that no doubt hurt voter turnout in California and other places—something that hurts the party when it comes to local races in competitive areas of safe states.

The 2000 results are significantly more interesting—using the Amendment 36 system, Gore wins with 269 votes, with 265 votes going to Bush and Nader taking 4 votes: 2 in California and one each in New York and Massachussetts. With the Hekebolos adjustment, the race becomes even tighter, with Bush and Gore each receiving 267 votes, leaving Nader with his 4 votes.

Some might say that this perfectly illustrates the problem with Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2000 because the “damage” can be measured in actual electoral votes that would have gone to Gore otherwise. While I was not and am not currently a Nader supporter and I proudly voted for Gore in 2000, I can tell you in no uncertain terms, however, that the amendment 36 system allows for third-party candidates to represent themselves without throwing an election in either direction: if you have an instant runoff in the Electoral College, Gore still wins the presidency, presuming that Nader’s electors pick Gore as their second choice.

Let’s take a similar example from the 1992 election. In 1992, Bill Clinton won Montana. That’s right. Montana, which went for Dole in 1996 and voted for Bush overwhelmingly in 2000 and 2004, helped elect Bill Clinton to his first term. The reason he did? Because Ross Perot received over 100,000 votes in Montana, rivaling Bush Sr.’s 144,000 and Clinton’s 154,000. And you can bet that if Perot hadn’t been in the race, Bush Sr. would have carried Montana rather easily and received the 3 votes there. But using the Amendment 36 system, it would have ended up being up to the Perot’s Montana elector (he would have gotten an electoral vote there!) whether to vote for Bush or Clinton in the runoff, rather than just throwing the state to Clinton.

So much for fairness for the voters. What about politics, you may ask?

Well, the advent of this type of electoral college reform would actually be good political news for Democrats for several reasons.

First and foremost, in the electoral college, the “red states” are gaining clout and the “blue states” are losing it. If you took the exact same electoral map of 2000 and applied it to the 2004 election, Bush would have received 284 electoral votes instead of the 271 he received in 2000. The fact is that the current outlook of the electoral college does not favor Democrats, but the vote of the people can continue to stay at its current balance, if not shift toward Democrats. The current methodology of presidential elections all but ensures that it will be very difficult—especially after the next census in the 2012 election—for Democrats to put their candidate in the Oval Office.

In addition, the myopic focus on the swing states, at the expense of everywhere else—as played out in the battle for control between Dean and Pelosi—is costing the Democrats on all sides, as has been well attested—especially with regard to local development and Congressional races. That myopic focus has been the result entirely of an accident of the Electoral College—and if that “necessity” is removed, the Democrats will have much more incentive to build the base of the party in all regions, which will help our growth in the long term.

It will, of course, be nearly impossible to get any type of reform accomplished. After all, no state will act alone, which means that the only way to push this type of reform through is with a Constitutional Amendment—and fat chance of getting the Republicans to support something that gives them an electoral challenge. But I wanted to throw out some ideas and some data, and see what you all think.

So tell me what you think.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and MyDD]

No comments :