Electoral College Reform

As New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s (almost) like déjà vu all over again.”  According to initial reports on the outcome of the 2016 General Election, Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton enjoyed a 390,048 vote advantage in the national popular vote, while her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, enjoyed a decisive 306 to 232 majority in the U.S. Electoral College.  Had those been the final tallies we would have been confronted with a result almost identical to the 2000 fiasco in which Democrat Al Gore enjoyed a 543,900 vote plurality in the national popular vote, while George W. Bush won a slim 271 to 266 vote majority in the Electoral College.  In that election, out of a total national popular vote of 101,455,900, Gore won a razor-thin popular vote majority… 50,999,900 votes (50.26%) to Bush’s 50,456,000 (49.74%).

In the present case, out of 125, 249, 976 votes cast, Donald Trump won a thin popular vote plurality: 62, 972,225 (50.27%) to 62,277,750 (49.73%) for Clinton.  In the 2000 presidential election, a switch of just 271,951 votes would have given Bush a narrow popular vote victory, along with a 271 to 266 vote victory in the Electoral College.  In 2016, a switch of just one vote out of each 361 votes cast would have given Clinton a razor-thin plurality in the national popular vote, her shortfall almost identical to that of George Bush and Dick Cheney in 2000.

The 2000 Bush-Cheney victory in the Electoral College caused liberals, Democrats, and some moderate Republicans to search for ways in which to bypass the Electoral College.  In response, and with the active support of Republicans such as former Illinois congressman John Anderson, they’ve created an organization called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC).

The NPVIC actively seeks support among the legislatures of the various states in support of a rule requiring that all of their state’s electoral votes be cast for the candidates for president and vice president who receive a majority of the national popular vote… regardless of the popular vote count in each of the Compact states.  The closeness of the national popular vote in 2016 is certain to reinvigorate the NPVIC campaign, but do they really know what they’re doing?  Are they aware of the potential unintended consequences if they are successful?

California’s commitment to the NPVIC on August 8, 2011 brought 131 of the needed 270 electoral votes under the popular vote umbrella.  If and when states representing at least 270 electoral votes have joined the Compact, then and only then will those states be able to eliminate any possibility of ever again electing a president and vice president with less than a majority of the national popular vote.

If the supporters of the NPVIC would do their homework, they would understand that, had the NPVIC rule been in effect in 2000, in every blue state in the nation, and if Bush-Cheney had been able to attract just one additional vote out of every 373 votes cast, eking out a narrow victory in the national popular vote, the states of the NPVIC would have been required to cast all 270 of their electoral votes for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, in spite of the fact that 21 of the 22 states in the Compact would have cast a majority of their popular votes for Al Gore.

Combined with the 267 electoral votes that Bush-Cheney won in the 29 non-NPVIC states, the Electoral College vote would have been a unanimous 537-0 victory for Bush-Cheney.  In other words, the proponents of the national popular vote would have insured a unanimous Electoral College vote for Bush-Cheney, a result that the Framers never envisioned and the exact opposite of what the NPVIC supporters hoped to accomplish.  The same is true for the 2016 results.

If supporters of the NPVIC are truly interested in Electoral College reform that is more democratic and closer to the will of the people than the winner-take-all system now utilized by 48 states and Washington, DC, they might want to consider adopting the allocation system now used by the states of Maine and Nebraska.  Under that system, the winner of the statewide popular vote receives both of the state’s two at-large electoral votes.  The remaining electoral votes are allocated based on the winner of the popular vote in each of the state’s congressional districts.  A comparative analysis of the 2016 Electoral College outcome shows the following:

Winner,                          Electoral Votes                                                                                        

Electoral      Popular         Winner-Take-All   Maine-Nebraska     Difference            

      State             Votes          Vote               HRC     DJT          HRC     DJT        HRC     DJT

Alabama           9            Trump                   0         9                  1         8              +1      -1

Alaska              3            Trump                   0          3                 0         3                 0       0

Arizona          11            Trump                   0        11                 4         7               +4      -4

Arkansas          6            Trump                   0          6                 0         6                 0       0

California       55            Clinton               55         0               41       14             -14   +14

Colorado          9            Clinton                 9         0                 5         4                -4     +4

Connecticut      7            Clinton                 7         0                 7         0                 0        0

Delaware          3            Clinton                 3         0                 3         0                 0        0

D.C.                  3           Clinton.                3         0                 3         0                 0        0

Florida            29          Trump                   0        29              11       18             +11     -11

Georgia          16           Trump                   0        16                 4       12               +4       -4

Hawaii              4           Clinton                 4         0                 4         0                 0        0

Idaho                 4           Trump                   0         4                 0         4                 0        0

Illinois             20           Clinton               20         0               12         8                -8      +8

Indiana            11           Trump                   0        11                 1       10               +1       -1

Iowa                  6           Trump                   0         6                 1         5               +1       -1

Kansas               6           Trump                   0          6                 1         5               +1       -1

Kentucky          8           Trump                   0         8                 1        7               +1       -1

Louisiana           8           Trump                   0         8                 1        7              +1       -1

Maine                4           Clinton                 3         1                 3         1                 0        0

Maryland         10           Clinton               10         0                 9         1                -1      +1

Massachusetts 11           Clinton               11          0               11         0                 0        0

Michigan         16           Trump                   0        16                 5       11               +5       -5

Minnesota       10           Clinton               10         0                 7         3                -3      +3

Mississippi         6           Trump                   0         6                 1        5               +1       -1

Missouri          10           Trump                   0        10                 2         8               +2       -2

Montana            3           Trump                   0         3                 0         3                 0        0

Nebraska           5           Trump                   0          5                 0         5                 0        0

Nevada              6           Clinton                 6         0                 5         1                -1      +1

New Hampshire 4          Clinton                 4         0                 4        0                 0        0

New Jersey      14           Clinton               14         0                 9         5                -5      +5

New Mexico     5           Clinton                 5         0                 4        1                -1      +1

New York      29           Clinton               29         0               20         9                -9      +9

North Carolina  15         Trump                   0        15                 3       12               +3       -3

North Dakota    3           Trump                   0         3                 0         3                 0        0

Ohio                18           Trump                   0        18                 4       14               +4       -4

Oklahoma          7           Trump                   0         7                 0         7                 0        0

Oregon                          7           Clinton                 7         0                 6         1                -1      +1

Pennsylvania   20           Trump                   0        20                 5       15               +5     -15

Rhode Island    4           Clinton                 4         0                 4         0                  0       0

South Carolina  9           Trump                   0          9                 1         8                +1       -1

South Dakota    3           Trump                   0         3                 0         3                  0       0

Tennessee        11           Trump                   0        11                 2        9                +2       -2

Texas              38           Trump                   0        38               11       27               +11     -11

Utah                  6           Trump                   0         6                 0         6                   0       0

Vermont            3           Clinton                 3         0                 3         0                  0        0

Virginia           13           Clinton               13         0                 7         6                  -7      +7

Washington     12           Clinton               12         0                 8         4                  -4      +4

West Virginia    5           Trump                   0         5                 0         5                    0        0

Wisconsin        10           Trump                   0        10                 3         7                  +3      -3

Wyoming          3           Trump                   0          3                 0         3                    0         0

232      306             237      301

Under the winner-take-all system in 2016, essentially all of the campaigning took place in twelve states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  However, had all states used the Maine-Nebraska system, that intensity would have spread to six additional states: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington… four of the six being among our most populous states.

Under the Maine-Nebraska system, Clinton would have gained electoral votes in nineteen states and lost votes in twelve states.  Under the winner-take-all system, Trump shut out Clinton in thirty states, while Clinton shut out Trump in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.  Under the Maine-Nebraska system, Trump would have shut out Clinton in only eleven states, while Clinton would have shut out Trump in just eight states.  In short, the Maine-Nebraska system would have the salutary effect of bringing political decisions closer to the people

But the most telling aspect of the analysis is provided by a comparison with the U.S. map on which each of the 3,100 counties are colored in either red or blue.  When viewing the map one might question how the map can be almost entirely red, while the distribution of the popular vote and the electoral vote, state by state, is relatively equal.  The answer lies in the occasional splotch of blue on the county-by-county map, indicating the popular vote in major population centers where the Democratic vote is often greater than 90 percent, and the rural and suburban areas where the partisan vote split is relatively equal… generally within the 45-55 percent range.

Electoral College critics would be well advised to do a bit more research into what could be the unintended consequence of scuttling the Electoral College in favor of the national popular vote.  While it is understandable that they would see unfairness in presidential elections in which the candidates receiving a plurality of the national popular vote could lose the election in the Electoral College, they will be far more upset if, after convincing state legislatures to adopt the NPVIC formula, they find that their efforts have produced unanimous 538 to 0 votes in the Electoral College for candidates who came in second in the popular vote.  Clearly, this is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they established the Electoral College.

RELATED VIDEO: Do You Understand the Electoral College?

5 replies
  1. rblack
    rblack says:

    In spite of this, the Electoral College system was put into place to prevent the majority from riding roughshod over the minority. In this case, it prevented a criminal candidate from taking all the levers of power for personal enrichment. This system has saved our Constitutional Republic before, and will again also. It forces a candidate to have broad appeal throughout the country, rather than being concentrated in the major metropolitan areas along the coast. Say, KEEP IT!

    After all, it was none other than Benjamin Franklin who said “ Here is your Republic, IF you can keep it”.

  2. johnnyG
    johnnyG says:


    • otto
      otto says:

      Being a constitutional republic does not mean we should not and cannot guarantee the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes. The candidate with the most votes wins in every other election in the country.

      Guaranteeing the election of the presidential candidate with the most popular votes and the majority of Electoral College votes (as the National Popular Vote bill would) would not make us a pure democracy.

      Pure democracy is a form of government in which people vote on all policy initiatives directly.

      Popular election of the chief executive does not determine whether a government is a republic or democracy.

      The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes used by 2 states, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by states of winner-take-all or district winner laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution

      The Constitution does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for how to award a state’s electoral votes

      The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency in 2020 to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

  3. otto
    otto says:

    Dividing more states’ electoral votes by congressional district winners would magnify the worst features of the Electoral College system.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would be less fair and less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts. In 2012, the Democratic candidate would have needed to win the national popular vote by more than 7 percentage points in order to win the barest majority of congressional districts. In 2014, Democrats would have needed to win the national popular vote by a margin of about nine percentage points in order to win a majority of districts.

    In 2012, for instance, when Obama garnered nearly a half million more votes in Michigan than Romney, Romney won nine of the state’s 14 congressional districts.

    Nationwide, there are now only 25 “battleground” districts that are expected to be competitive in the 2016 presidential election. With the present deplorable 48 state-level winner-take-all system, 38+ states (including California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, 98% of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally

    The district approach would not provide incentive for presidential candidates to poll, visit, advertise, and organize in a particular state or focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state.

    Awarding electoral votes by congressional district could result in no candidate winning the needed majority of electoral votes. That would throw the process into Congress to decide the election, regardless of the popular vote in any district or state or throughout the country.

    Because there are generally more close votes on district levels than states as whole, district elections increase the opportunity for error. The larger the voting base, the less opportunity there is for an especially close vote.

    Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

    A national popular vote is the way to make every person’s vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC becomes President.

  4. otto
    otto says:

    In Maine, the closely divided 2nd congressional district received campaign events in 2008 (whereas Maine’s 1st reliably Democratic district was ignored).
    In 2012, the whole state was ignored.
    77% of Maine voters support a national popular vote for President
    In 2008, the Maine Senate passed the National Popular Vote bill

    2016 is the first time one electoral vote in Maine will be given to the candidate who did not win the state.

    Republican leaders in Maine proposed and passed a constitutional amendment that, if passed at referendum, would require a 2/3rds vote in all future redistricting decisions. Then they changed their minds and wanted to pass a majority-only plan to make redistricting in their favor even easier.

    In Nebraska, the 2008 presidential campaigns did not pay the slightest attention to the people of Nebraska’s reliably Republican 1st and 3rd congressional districts because it was a foregone conclusion that McCain would win the most popular votes in both of those districts. The issues relevant to voters of the 2nd district (the Omaha area) mattered, while the (very different) issues relevant to the remaining (mostly rural) 2/3rds of the state were irrelevant.
    In 2012, the whole state was ignored.
    74% of Nebraska voters support a national popular vote for President

    When Nebraska in 2008 gave one electoral vote to the candidate who did not win the state, it was the first time of any state in the past century

    After Obama won 1 congressional district in Nebraska in 2008,Nebraska Republicans moved that district to make it more Republican to avoid another GOP loss there, and the leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party promptly adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support.
    A GOP push to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system of awarding its electoral college votes for president only barely failed in March 2015 and April 2016.


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