Michael Ramirez is a syndicated political cartoonist. His stuff is pretty consistently nonsense and distortions, but he’s a cartoonist and we oughtn’t to expect wisdom from him. Recently he produced the following ‘toon concerning the Electoral College:
The point of the cartoon is pretty evident. Four big states (California, Texas, Florida, and New York) have overwhelming population advantages. Without the Electoral College to mitigate those few states’ influence, they would dominate national politics. The people in the rest of the country would hardly have a voice in choosing the president, and depriving citizens of a voice in government is not the American way. So, Hooray for the Electoral College!
Here, for your consideration, is a morph chart of the actual Electoral College strength of each state, from Wikipedia:
This shows the balance of state voting power after the effect of the College is included. The 4 big states still have the largest effect, but are no longer overwhelming as in Ramirez’ “Before” picture.
The thing is, Ramirez greatly exaggerates the case. Without the Electoral College, 9 states — not 4 — would have a majority of electoral power. And the relief provided by the Electoral College is pretty slight. After the corrective effects of the EC, an electoral majority still resides in only 11 states. We’re told that the Electoral College is valuable because it balances the strength of large and small states. But it doesn’t affect that balance by much. (Nor should it!)
Now consider the data in the following table. You see, next to each state, the number of electoral votes the state has, and next to that its population according to the 2010 Census. Then, under the heading, “Proper Share” is my calculation of the number of electoral votes the state would have if votes were apportioned by population. California ought to have 65 votes rather than the 55 votes it gets. Wyoming ought to have 1, rather than the 3 it has now. (As you may know, each state’s electoral votes equals its number of senators and US representatives. So the tiny-population states with only one member of Congress still get 3 electoral votes. The difference between a state’s actual number of electoral votes and the number if would have by proper proportion appears under the “Difference” column. If you live in any of the 19 states with a negative value in the “Difference” column, the Electoral College works against you.
Electoral Votes, Population & State Tallies
Just for curiosity, I calculated how many people in each state are represented by each federal representative from that state. The differences ought to be very slight, because each American citizen is entitled to equal representation in the national government. The “Citizens per Rep” column shows how far from the ideal we’ve drifted. People living in California have 1 federal representative (House or Senate) for every 677,345. That is 53 members of Congress plus 2 senators divided by the population of 37-million people. Meanwhile, people in Wyoming share a federal representative with fewer than 200,000 people. Is that “equal representation?”
He said that he believes eliminating the Electoral College “would stimulate public participation in the democratic process like nothing else we could possibly do.” And he was adamant that something must be done. “Our democracy’s been hacked now,” he said. “It’s pathetic how our system is not working today.”
Gore describes eliminating the Electoral College as one of 3 or 4 things we could do to “bring democracy back to life.”
Now, to close this out, I’d like to observe that the most amazing issue relating to the Electoral College hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Have you noticed?
The main problem about the Electoral College, as applied in most states, is the winner-take-all aspect of it. I don’t think it necessary to vote by state. We ought to simply vote as individuals. But the winner-take-all aspect distorts the outcome extremely. Every state except Maine and Nebraska gives all its electoral votes to the candidate that wins a plurality (not even a majority) of votes. Because of that weird practice, the votes of non-plurality voters are completely disregarded in the final phase of the presidential selection process. (And by “final phase” I mean the one phase that actually chooses the president!)
A few paragraphs above, I wrote, “depriving citizens of a voice in government is not the American way.” But, as a matter of fact, it absolutely is.