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|
|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|
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.