Electoral College Reform through Proportional Representation

A Reform of the Electoral College that Republicans and Small States Might Actually Consider

The electoral college may not be very democratic, but it’s not going away. By considering everyone’s interests in a non-partisan way, there might be a way to fix the worst aspects of the electoral college system.

Swing states benefit from the current system, in the sense that they get more attention at least during a campaign, as if that’s a good thing. However, it’s not clear that swing states actually benefit in any other way: more federal funding or some other perk.

I doubt decision makers in Ohio think it’s a bad thing that they are important for picking the president. They might not leap at a chance to take that position away. The people, the voters, in the swing states might not love the attention of candidates every four years for a few months enough to want to keep the current system if a better one comes along that has a chance of becoming law.

The swing states have in common that they are close to split equally in terms of Democrats and Republicans for the past few decades. These states may or may not roughly reflect the concerns of the country generally. Focusing on these states as “stand ins” for the entire country is not necessarily a good idea for anyone.

Small states and Republicans like the current system too. Not all the small states lean Republican and not all of them are rural, but in general the smaller states tend to be rural and more Republican. (RI is not rural and VT leans far left and both only have three votes, but there are many more states in the west with three that do lean right, or libertarian or something, and are very rural.)

Rural areas prefer the current system to a popular vote model. If the president were picked by popular vote, the mayor of New York would be a good “on deck” position for running for president. If you got 70-90% of the biggest 20 cities, you’d be on your way to winning.

Many people might say, “Well, too bad for rural voters. If more people live in cities, then cities should get more political power, period.” Plus, diluting the power of cities also dilutes the power of minority voters, if you think that is a legitimate concern.

The counter argument would be that cities tend to have more economic power and to increase their political power is not necessarily a good thing. The rural areas could be completely forgotten, not to mention Ohio if it weren’t a swing state.

Others wonder what would happen if the popular vote were so close that there had to be a recount of 140 million votes as another argument against abolishing the electoral college. My proposal here eliminates this concern.

But what should be the case isn’t all that relevant. If you really want to change the system, you aren’t going to do it in the face of the opposition of the majority party, the political elites of the 12 or so swing states, and the 17 smaller states.

If you wanted to change the electoral college by consitutional amendment, you’d have to get 3/4 of the states to approve the change. Problem is, there are 17 states with 3, 4, or 5 votes who would never approve an amendment that would dramatically reduce their own clout in a presidential election.

17/50 = .34 > .25 therefore no constitutional amendment.

So, the electoral college is here to stay as long as we maintain the US Constitution. You could call a federal constitutional convention, I suppose, but how likely or even advisable is that?

A group called National Popular Vote is trying to get all the big states to agree to abide by the popular vote, an “end run” around the electoral college without a constitutional amendment. But that won’t work either. USA Today ran an editorial pointing out that a state like New York would have a hard time casting it’s electoral votes for a Republican or Texas for a Democrat and trust could break down at any moment.

The honor system won’t work. A state legislature can always change the rules, even after the election. So, no, that won’t work. Plus, again, the small states won’t sign onto any provision that reduces their power. The National Popular Vote campaign is just as unattractive to small states as a constitutional amendment. So, no.

Here is another way to approach the problem: All the states could agree (by constitutional amendment) to allocate their electoral votes proportionally. So if California has 55 electoral college votes and, as this year, the Democrat got 62%, that would be 34 for the Democrat and 21 for the Republican. New Hampshire or Nevada might have to allocate two or three to the Democrat and maybe two to the Republican.

If all 50 states had to follow the same rule, we would no longer have swing state elections. A Democrat could campaign in Texas and a Republican in Oregon. Small states like Nebraska that usually go Republican might get more attention, as one electoral vote might get swiped by a Democrat, etc. Plus, whether you think this is a good thing or not, a third party might get enough votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives by polling above about 20% in a couple of moderately sized states and denying either major party candidate a majority of the 538 electors.

This proposal for proportional representation is better than abolishing the Electoral College or trying to do an end run around the college that won’t work. Small states would not lose their relative advantage and might pass an amendment like this. Wyoming votes would still count about 3.6 times more than California.

CA: 38 million people, 55 electoral votes, 690,000 people = one elector /// WY: 570,000 people, 3 electoral votes, 190,000 people = one elector /// 690,000 / 190,00 = 3.6

The most underrepresented people now and in my proposed change are those in states with between about 7 and 18 electors (WI, OR, TN, etc.) the middle size states, where the plus two advantage to the smallest states takes the biggest bite statistically. As states get bigger, this imbalance becomes more diluted.

Maine and Nebraska allocate electors by congressional district, entirely or in part. Republicans should like this solution. Just look at the House of Representatives to see how the presidential election would turn out.

As these districts are gerrymandered, if this solution were made national, the system would be even more unfair than the current winner-take-all state system. Democrats won’t go for this option (presumably, although voting against or failing to recognize their own interest seems to be the Democratic credo).

Under my proportional system, you could still have the winner of the popular vote lose the electoral college. It’s far less likely, but it could still happen. Small states maintain their clout, even as swing states lose some, maybe. Not much, and it might be a relief not to be an over-burdened “swing state voter.”

Would Republicans or Democrats benefit? Not sure. Elections would be different than they are now and this would effect the type of candidate each party runs, if they want to win, and how they mobilize.

All of a sudden, getting out the vote in Los Angeles would matter, but getting out the vote in Nebraska would still matter more. Florida would not be under a microscope, and they would not be the focus of national attention again, as in 2000.

My proposal here would be hard to achieve but seems like a more compromise proposal than others I have found to date.