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Friday
Jan252013

Should We Abandon Winner Take All Electoral Voting?

Do we need to change the electoral college?

The topic is apparently being discussed by Republicans who control more than half the State Legislatures in the country; and that's where a major change could occur.

Two states, Nebraska and Maine, currently split electoral votes by congressional districts.  In other words, it doesn't need to be winner take all.  In small states, the result is usually unchanged when they go to the new system; Obama, as I recall, salvaged one congressional district in Nebraska (most certainly the one including Omaha and Warren the sage) and therefore one electoral vote in 2008. However, my guess is that any change is far more likely to benefit Republicans than Democrats; it doesn't take a cynic to realize that's the reason Republicans are exploring changes.

For example, Obama won states like Virginia, Ohio, and Florida by narrow margins, but my guess is he lost a majority of the congressional districts.  Nate Silver or some numbers cruncher could easily come up with new numbers on how the totals would have turned out had this system been in play in all 50 states.  The final result most likely would not have changed, but it would have been much closer.  In Pennsylvania for example, Obama won big in the districts around Philadelphia, but lost in most of the rest of the state.

The way it works is the state winner gets two electoral votes; remember each state has the number of electoral votes of its senators and congressmen combined.  The remainder are split according to each congressional district.

The idea is perfectly Constitutional; each state decides how its electoral votes will be allotted.

There's a great book on the election of 1800, A Magnificent Catastrophe.  Back then, some states chose electors by a popular vote; some by the vote of their legislatures; and not all votes were held on the same date.  In fact, Aaron Burr's hard work in the springtime of 1800 led to his party (Jefferson) wrapping up all of New York's electoral votes.  Alexander Hamilton was so upset that he tried to convince Governor (John Jay ?) to redo the election and have the legislature decide the electoral votes.  Had he been successful, Adams might have been re-elected.

In reading the new Seward biography last week, I learned that it wasn't until after 1840 that all states first held  Presidential elections on the same day.

I favor maintaining the electoral college rather than going to a simple popular vote total to decide the Presidency, but I think this state by state change in the selections of electors is well worth considering, and not just because it would APPEAR to help Republicans. 

I seem to recall a bill to do this was introduced several years back in New Hampshire; it went nowhere, but again keep in mind that it doesn't matter all that much for small states (we have only four electoral votes), but it could make a big difference if big states all opted for changes all at once.

For sure, Romney would not have received all of the Texas electoral votes, but he would have gotten some out of California and New York.

Has anyone run the numbers yet?

If not, I'm sure someone will.

This is a story worth following.

 

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Reader Comments (3)

Thanks. I knew someone else would save me the work of running the numbers. Fascinating!
Of course, the real danger with this is that some states could go for splitting the electoral votes for and others might not. Imagine, for example, if California, Illinois, and New York went for it, but Texas and Georgia kept winner take all. That would be very bad for Democrats, so it's probably unfair, but it would be entirely constitutional. Of course, Democrats in Cal. wouldn't allow this to heppen, but the real problem for Democrats would be in states in which Republicans control state legislatures, places like Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Michigan. Who controls the NY legislature? Is it Republicans or is it split?
January 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterRep Steve Vaillancourt

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