I've long held the opinion that the popular vote argument is stupid. I'm actually in support of the general concept of the electoral college. We have a nation with a history of balancing popular representation with regional representation. Even our congress is set up that way - the Senate gives states equal representation, while the House is (in theory) set up for popular representation. I believe there's ultimately an environmental argument to give states an extra bit of regional representation. So it makes sense to me that the electoral college would strike the same difference, of giving each state different weightings to balance its popular representation (by awarding it one electoral vote for each congressional district) with its regional representation (by also giving each state one electoral vote for each of its two senators).
So, if we accept for argument's sake that the general concept is a good one (especially since it would be just about impossible to change it constitutionally), how good is our actual implementation of it? One of the common arguments against the electoral college is that each of the states are "winner take all", so for instance none of the Democrats in Alabama are having their votes "counted" in the electoral college calculations. (In general I believe this balances out because other states that go Democratic will then not have their Republican citizens "count".)
But what would be more fair? Leaving aside the question of how we determine how many congressional districts (and electoral votes) each state receives, how can we help voters in each state feel less disenfranchised?
One thing that would be more fair would be to proportionally award the electoral votes, by how much popular support each candidate received in each state. If the real purpose is just to better represent states that have regional interests but not as much population, then it really is just a matter of weighted averages. So if Texas had 32 electoral votes, and Gore had 38% of the Texas vote, then he'd get 12.16 electoral votes.
Rather than deal with the 269-vote rule (since this approach would definitely mean that third parties would make a close vote unwinnable), I decided to look at it as a weighted popular vote.
So I went through and calculated it for each state - and rather than figure it in terms of electoral votes, I figured it in terms of person votes. Since the smaller states have more regional weighting, the votes of the people in those states effectively count for more than they do for people in California. By weighting all the votes by how much their states are worth, I came up with some interesting results:
Of the 105,412,329 votes cast in 2000, when the votes are weighted properly for regional representation, Bush actually won:
- Bush: 48.17%
- Gore: 48.01%
- Nader: 2.77%
- Other: 1.05%
- Gore: 48.01%
This "weighted popular vote" is even closer than the regular popular vote we had, where Gore led by 0.5%.
So it looks like that if we had had a "fairer" electoral college, Bush would have won. But we all know Bush won unfairly. Why was Gore in the position to have been the rightful winner, even though the intent of the system would have picked Bush?
Believe it or not, it's because Gore's strategy worked better. Of the top seven closest states, Gore won five of them. The other two were New Hampshire, and of course, Florida, which Gore actually won. What this means is that the argument of "I'm an x in a y state so my votes didn't count" actually worked in the Democrats favor in 2000. Basically, Gore squeezed a lot of blood out of the turnip of 2000, with the Nader distraction, an apathetic Democratic base, and a population that underestimated Bush's conservatism. We can complain about the electoral college disenfranchising Democrats in Republican states, but actually the Republicans were more disenfranchised by it in 2000.
To me this just underscores that what we really need to focus on in 2004 is not so much the inequities of the system in 2000. Instead we need to focus on passion, organization, turnout, and coverting new voters. I think we'd ultimately be doing ourselves a disservice if we focused on simply duplicating 2000 with a few tweaks here and there. The truth is it's a much bigger battle than that, we lost, and we need to make bigger strategic changes to increase our chances in 2004. The "we wuz robbed" mentality might actually be bad for us if we focus too much on simply undoing the wrongs of 2000.
Some notes - Some of Nader's votes are actually in "Other" somewhere, because some states records are incomplete in the source I used.
What the Democrats should really be doing is convincing 30,000 California Democrats to move to the east side of Lake Tahoe. I mean geez, just live in your vacation home for three months next winter, long enough to register, vote, and move back. If the states are the same as 2000, you'd swing the whole election.
If you believe as I do that the general concept of the electoral college is a good one - balancing popular with regional representatiaon - there are still some other grounds on which to oppose its implementation. First, a closer examination of why it actually has to be 538 votes, or a 436:102 ratio of popular to regional representation. Why did they pick those numbers, and does it perhaps warrant changing the ratio as our population grows? Second, there could be a closer examination of census statistics, to actually award fractional EVs to each state.