Abolish the Electoral College? Dream On.

Ed Uthman, MD

Posted 16 October 2004

Since the controversial election of 2000, in which Al Gore won the popular vote and George W. Bush won the electoral vote, I have repeatedly heard talk of abolishing the Electoral College and electing the President by direct popular vote. The only way this can be done is by Constitutional amendment, which requires ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures, or 38 states. Therefore, failure of 13 states to ratify such an amendment is all it takes to derail it.

The problem is that under the current system, 24 states already enjoy disproportionate representation in the Electoral College, as shown in the table below. Of those 24, 15 states would lose 2 electoral votes if the votes were reapportioned purely by population. Of those 15, 7 would lose two-thirds of their votes, and 5 would lose half. It would be quite a stretch to believe that any legislature would voluntarily reduce its own state's influence in presidential elections. It is most unlikely that enough of the 24 currently advantaged states would vote against their own self-interest to eliminate or reapportion the Electoral College.

The disproportionate power of sparsely populated states is no unforeseen fluke that evolved as the country grew. Allocation of two Senators and at least three Electors for each state was the Framers' quite purposeful attempt to shield the country's great breadbasket from the will of the cities' teeming masses. Was this a good idea? You'll likely get a different answer in California than in Wyoming!

Population, Electoral votes, People per elector, Electoral votes, People per Current
2000 Census reapportioned as reapportioned current elector, current advantage
(millions) by population (thousands)   (thousands) in Electoral
          College
United States 281.417 537 524 538 523  
           
Alaska 0.627 1 627 3 209 +2
DC 0.572 1 572 3 191 +2
Delaware 0.784 1 784 3 261 +2
Hawaii 1.212 2 606 4 303 +2
Idaho 1.294 2 647 4 324 +2
Maine 1.275 2 638 4 319 +2
Nebraska 1.711 3 570 5 342 +2
New Hampshire 1.236 2 618 4 309 +2
New Mexico 1.819 3 606 5 364 +2
North Dakota 0.642 1 642 3 214 +2
Rhode Island 1.048 2 524 4 262 +2
South Dakota 0.755 1 755 3 252 +2
Vermont 0.609 1 609 3 203 +2
West Virginia 1.808 3 603 5 362 +2
Wyoming 0.494 1 494 3 165 +2
Arkansas 2.673 5 535 6 446 +1
Colorado 4.301 8 538 9 478 +1
Iowa 2.926 6 488 7 418 +1
Kansas 2.688 5 538 6 448 +1
Minnesota 4.919 9 547 10 492 +1
Mississippi 2.845 5 569 6 474 +1
Montana 0.902 2 451 3 301 +1
Nevada 1.998 4 500 5 400 +1
Utah 2.233 4 558 5 447 +1
Alabama 4.447 9 494 9 494 none
Arizona 5.131 10 513 10 513 none
Connecticut 3.406 7 487 7 487 none
Kentucky 4.042 8 505 8 505 none
Louisiana 4.469 9 497 9 497 none
Maryland 5.296 10 530 10 530 none
Massachusetts 6.349 12 529 12 529 none
Missouri 5.595 11 509 11 509 none
North Carolina 8.049 15 537 15 537 none
Oklahoma 3.451 7 493 7 493 none
Oregon 3.421 7 489 7 489 none
South Carolina 4.012 8 502 8 502 none
Tennessee 5.689 11 517 11 517 none
Washington 5.894 11 536 11 536 none
Wisconsin 5.364 10 536 10 536 none
Georgia 8.186 16 512 15 546 -1
Indiana 6.080 12 507 11 553 -1
New Jersey 8.414 16 526 15 561 -1
Virginia 7.079 14 506 13 545 -1
Michigan 9.938 19 523 17 585 -2
Ohio 11.353 22 516 20 568 -2
Pennsylvania 12.281 23 534 21 585 -2
Illinois 12.419 24 517 21 591 -3
Florida 15.982 31 516 27 592 -4
New York 18.976 36 527 31 612 -5
Texas 20.852 40 521 34 613 -6
California 33.872 65 521 55 616 -10
Color Key
  States that currently have a disproportionately large number of electors
  States that currently have their fair share of electors
  States that currently have fewer electors than they would if reapportioned by population

Methodology

The table was calculated from population data from the 2000 US Census, and the current electoral vote allocation was from the Federal Election Commission. The reapportionment of votes for each state was calculated by dividing the state's population by the total US population, multiplying this fraction by the total number of votes in the Electoral College (538), and rounding to the nearest whole number, allowing at least one elector for each state. Under reapportionment, the new total of electoral votes is 537 due to fractional rounding of the votes of each state.

The Excel spreadheet file with all the original calculations is available for downloading.

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