The Electoral College Delivers Unpredictable, Almost Random Results, But It Can Be Fixed

Our Systems Of Justice, Government, Finance, Etc. Need To Deliver Predictable Results

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

By David Grace (Amazon PageDavid Grace Website)

Systems With Predictable Results Are Vital

In order to manage our lives, we need to be able to figure out the likely consequences of our actions.

Written laws define criminal acts and assign specific punishments so that we can understand in advance the probable consequences of our conduct.

We can’t live with a drug that randomly cures us today and kills us tomorrow. We can’t live with a car that starts today, doesn’t start tomorrow, runs great the next day, and bursts into flame the day after that.

This need for predictability extends beyond criminal and financial systems. The electoral process needs predictability too.

Candidates And Voters Need To Know In Advance How The Winning Candidate Is Chosen

Imagine that after an election the votes cast were ignored and instead somebody appointed by the City Council decided which of the candidates would be declared the winner. What would be the point of even having an election if some appointed official could choose anyone he/she wanted?

Without election rules that provide reliability and predictability you’re essentially just picking the winner’s name out of a hat in a blind drawing that has no relationship between the candidates’ policies and the voters’ choices. Democracies cannot function that way.

That is my problem with the Electoral College.

The Winner Chosen By The Electoral College System Is So Unpredictable That It Is Almost Random

I ran the numbers for the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections and found that there is little or no reliable or predictable relationship between the number of votes cast for each candidate and the number of electoral votes each candidate receives.

The electoral college results were so wildly different for the two elections that they bore little relationship to the votes cast for the four candidates in those two elections.

2016 & 2020 Popular Vote Percentages

Since no 2016 or 2020 third-party presidential candidates earned any electoral votes I ignored the votes for third-party candidates and added together the 2016 votes for Trump and Clinton and the 2020 votes for Trump and Biden to determine the percentage of the votes received by each candidate in each election.

In rounded numbers, in 2016 Clinton got 51.1% of that total vote and Trump got 48.9%.

In rounded numbers, in 2020 Biden got 52.3% of that total vote and Trump got 47.7%.

Trump 2016 Vs. Trump 2020

In 2016 Trump got 48.9% of the popular vote but he received 56.9% of the electoral votes.

In 2020, Trump got 47.7% of the popular vote, a 2.45% decrease from his performance in 2016 (48.9 — 47.7 = 1.2/48.9) but he received only 43.1% of the electoral votes, a 24.25% decrease in the percentage of electoral votes he received (56.9% — 43.1% = 13.8%/56.9%).

Trump 2016 vs 2020: A 2.45% decrease in popular vote →24.25% decrease in electoral votes.

Essentially, Trump’s percentage of the electoral votes decreased 10X more than his percentage decrease in the popular vote (24.25%/2.45%)

We had the same candidate, Trump, and almost the same percentage of the popular vote, 47.7 vs. 48.9%, but Trump’s electoral votes declined from 56.9% all the way down to 43.1% of the electoral votes.

Clinton 2016 Vs. Biden 2020

In terms of the percentage of the total votes cast for Clinton and Biden, Biden got roughly 2.35% (52.3% — 51.1% = 1.2%/51.1%) more popular votes than Clinton received.

In 2016 Clinton got 51.1% of the popular vote but she received only 43.1% of the electoral votes.

In 2020 Biden got 52.3% of the popular vote, a 2.35% increase over Clinton’s percentage of the popular vote, but Biden received 56.9% of the electoral votes.

Biden 2020 vs. Clinton 2016: A 2.35% increase in popular vote → 32% increase in electoral votes. That’s a 13.6X percentage increase in Biden’s electoral votes (32%/2.35%) in relation to his percentage increase over Clinton’s popular vote.

Winners: Trump 2016 Vs. Biden 2020 Electoral Votes

Trump 2016: 48.9% of the popular vote →56.9% of the electoral vote

Biden 2020: 52.3% of the popular vote →56.9% of the electoral vote

We had two candidates, Trump and Biden, who received the same percentage of electoral votes, 56.9%, but one of them did it by winning only 48.9% of the popular vote while the other one had to win 52.3% of the popular vote to get the same number of electoral votes.

Losers: Clinton 2016 Vs. Trump 2020 Electoral Votes

Clinton 2016: 51.1% of the popular vote →43.1% of the electoral vote

Trump 2020: 47.7% of the popular vote →43.1% of the electoral vote

Two candidates, one with over 51% of the vote and the other with less than 48% of the vote and they both got the same number of electoral votes.

This is almost a random system in which two candidates, Biden and Clinton, who received close to the same percentage of the popular vote yet received two vastly different electoral vote results, one representing a strong win for Biden and the other a strong defeat for Clinton.

Electoral Votes By State Vs. Electoral Votes In Proportion To Popular Vote

If the electoral votes mirrored the popular vote, then in 2020 Biden would have received only 281 electoral votes (52.3% X 538) instead of the 306 he won, and Trump would have received 254 (47.7% X 538) electoral votes instead of the only 232 electoral votes he won.

In 2016 Trump, the Republican, got MORE electoral votes than his percentage of the popular vote and Clinton, the Democrat, got FEWER electoral votes than her percentage of the popular vote.

In 2020 Biden, the Democrat, got MORE electoral votes than his percentage of the popular vote and Trump, the Republican, got FEWER electoral votes than his percentage of the popular vote.

In Summary, Unpredictable, Almost Random, Results

This is not a predictable system. This is not a reliable system, and in elections as in medicine, law, engineering, finance, criminal law, etc. we want and we need our systems to be both reliable and predictable.

There Are Other Serious Detriments From The Winner-Take-All Assignment Of Electoral Votes

Under the current winner-take-all policy used by 48 of the 50 states, the total number of votes cast for Joe Biden and Donald Trump in Virginia was 4,935,487. Out of those roughly 4.9 million votes Biden won the state by only 11,779 votes, yet he received all 16 of Virginia’s electoral votes.

This winner-take-all system guarantees that changes in a very small numbers of votes will have massive consequences far out of proportion to their numbers.

This winner-take-all system

  • generates distrust of election results
  • encourages abuse of the voting process, including voter suppression,
  • spurs recounts, court fights, conflicts, and delays
  • ahead of election day creates uncertainty about what the result will be
  • delivers unpredictable, almost random, results including the election of a candidate who is chosen by only a minority of the voters
  • guarantees that campaigns will be limited to a few “battleground states” which get all the candidates’ attention to the detriment of the rest of the country

In spite of these massive and obvious flaws, politically it’s going to be almost impossible to switch to a system where the President is simply elected by the popular vote.

But there is a fix that might be both practically and politically possible.

Can The Electoral College Be Revised To Be Less Random?

This leads us to ask ourselves: Is there a better, more rational, more predictable way to elect a President while still keeping the Electoral College?

I decided to perform a little experiment. I asked myself:

What would have happened if each state awarded electoral votes in proportion to that state’s popular vote?

Awarding A State’s Electoral Votes In Proportion To That State’s Popular Vote

If a state had 10 electoral votes and each candidate got 50% of that state’s popular vote then each candidate would get 5 of that state’s 10 electoral votes.

If a state had 3 electoral votes and the popular vote was split 60% — 40% then 60% X 3 = 1.8 so we would round that up to 2 electoral votes for the 60% candidate and round down to 1 electoral vote for the 40% candidate.

If a state had an odd number of electoral votes, e.g. 3, and each candidate received exactly 50% of the vote, that is exactly 1.5 votes each, then each would get 1 electoral vote and the third vote would go to whichever candidate received a majority of all the votes cast for President nationwide.

How This Would Have Worked For The 2020 Election

I applied this system to the state-by-state numbers for the 2020 election. The result was 277 electoral votes for Biden (instead of 306) and 261 electoral votes for Trump (instead of 232).

Under such a rule Biden and Trump would have each won 8 of Georgia’s 16 electoral votes; Biden would have gotten 36 of California’s 55 electoral votes and Trump would have gotten 19; Biden would have gotten 18 of Texas’ 38 electoral votes and Trump would have gotten 20.

On the other hand, if the country’s total of 538 electoral votes were awarded in strict proportion to the national popular vote Biden would have gotten 281 electoral votes (52.3% X 538) and Trump 257 electoral votes (47.7% X 538).

Under an award of electoral votes on a state-by-state basis in proportion to each state’s popular vote, Biden would have received 277 electoral votes, not 281, and Trump would have received 261 electoral votes, not 257.

How This Would Have Worked For The 2016 Election

I also ran the numbers for the 2016 election and under this mechanism Trump would have received 268 electoral votes and Clinton would have gotten 270, which is far less than Clinton would have received if the electoral votes were issued in direct proportion to the popular vote — 51.1% Clinton Popular Vote X 538 = 275 electoral votes; 48.9% Trump Popular Vote X 538 = 263 electoral votes.

Advantages Of Making Each State’s Electoral Votes Proportional To That State’s Popular Vote

This proportional electoral-vote system would have the following advantages:

  • There would no longer be any “battleground states” meaning that candidates would campaign across the country as a whole
  • Changes in small numbers of votes one way or the other in a state would have no material effect
  • There would be no incentive for recounts or court fights over small numbers of votes
  • This would still preserve the allocation of votes state by state instead of by the popular vote on a national basis.

Each state awarding its electoral votes in proportion to that state’s popular votes would give us a far more predictable and reliable system in contrast to the current system where a candidate’s margin of victory or defeat bears little or no relationship to the total number of votes that candidate received.

How Could This Be Done?

Conceivably, such a plan could be adopted by the states as an interstate compact or Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution could be amended to require that each state assign its electoral votes to the Presidential candidates in proportion to the popular votes each such candidate received in that state.

We Must Fix This System

One thing is clear, the current system is so unpredictable, fragile, prone to manipulation, litigation, disputes, fraud and corruption that it must be changed.

— David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

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David Grace

David Grace

3.3K Followers

Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 16 novels and over 400 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.