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Retain the Electoral College But Fix It

For the past couple decades the Electoral College has been the object of considerable criticism mainly due to presidential candidates who did not receive the most national popular votes being elected. The Electoral College as specified in the U. S. Constitution is a process implemented by the various states and Congress. The Founding Fathers believed in majority rule while protecting individual freedoms. They preserved their beliefs in the Constitution. A minority vote president violates majority rule and should be prevented.

Since 1900 there have been more than 700 unsuccessful proposals submitted to Congress to modify or delete the Electoral College via amending the Constitution. Many of the proposal initiators failed to realize that the deficiencies of the Electoral College process are a result of actions of the various states.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC)

The NPVIC is an attempt to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. While its objective is valid, its proposed implementation is flawed. For a close election the results of every state would be recounted, audited, and possibly challenged in court. Residents of a state who voted with a super majority for a candidate who did not win the national popular vote, would have their votes ignored.  There would be an incentive for “faithless electors”. The NPVIC only requires a plurality vote winner thus disregarding the Founding Fathers’ intent for rule by the majority.

Winner-Take-All Electoral College Vote Allocation

The District of Columbia and all states except Maine and Nebraska have legislated winner-take-all, plurality vote presidential elections. Contrastingly, the Electoral College requires a majority vote winner or the selection of president is determined by the House of Representatives. It is unreasonable to assume that the aggregate of state plurality vote wins will result in a national majority vote win. With winner-take-all, the preferences of those who did not vote for the top vote getter are discarded. However, the total number of discarded votes may exceed the total number of votes cast for the plurality winner.

Another deficiency of the winner-take-all implementation is that “swing/battleground” states receive more campaign attention from candidates. A candidate is unlikely to spend resources campaigning in a state he/she is likely to win or likely to lose. Consequently, the swing states determine the outcome of the election. This is an instance of the majority (national voters) being controlled by a minority (swing states voters) and violates the intent of the Constitution.

Ranked Choice Voting Presidential Election

If the District of Columbia and every state implemented ranked choice voting to determine the statewide winner, a majority vote of unexhausted ballots would be achieved. However, the winner-take-all effect would not be eliminated at the national level. Al Gore would still have lost to George W. Bush in the 2000 election. And Hillary Clinton would still have lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Congressional District Electoral College Vote Allocation

If the Electoral College method implemented by Maine and Nebraska were implemented by every state there would be an incentive to gerrymander in every state having more than one congressional district. Also, there would be an unacceptable possibility that a majority of Electoral College votes would not be achieved by any candidate.

Electoral College Vote Proportional Allocation

If the District of Columbia and every state allocated its Electoral College votes proportionally to the statewide popular vote, there would be an unacceptable possibility that no candidate would achieve a majority of Electoral College votes. This would have happened in the 1992, 2000 and 2016 elections.

RCV/Top-Two Electoral College Vote Proportional Allocation

A method superior to past and present proposed “fixes” for the Electoral College would incorporate three changes to the presidential electoral process. First, the District of Columbia and each state would implement ranked choice voting (RCV). Second, instant runoff rounds would be executed until only the top-two winners remain. Finally, electoral votes would be proportionally allocated to the top-two winners using the Jefferson method. Since presidential electors are retained and electoral votes are integers, no amendment to the U.S. Constitution is needed. 

RCV allows a voter to select the most desired candidate for office without concerns that the vote will be wasted or act as a spoiler. The instant runoff capability of RCV utilizes a voter’s less preferred candidate choices to influence the election outcome of runoff rounds until a majority winner is determined or the ballot choices are exhausted. If the runoff rounds are continued until only the top-two candidates remain, the winner-take-all effect will be minimized. Consequently, the aggregate of state Electoral College votes at the national level will be proportional to the national popular vote.

The Jefferson method was devised by Thomas Jefferson in 1792 for Congressional apportionment following the first U.S. census. An equivalent method was published in 1882 by Victor D’Hondt. The implementation involves repeatedly dividing the statewide popular votes for each candidate with an increasing integer divisor and then ranking the results in descending order. The process is illustrated below for the top four 1992 President of the United States (POTUS) candidates’ votes cast in the Arizona election.

1992 POTUS Proportional Electoral Vote Calculation for ArizonaEV #: Allocated Electoral College Vote
Divisor  1  2  3  4
Bill Clinton  EV 2 543,050  EV 5 271,525  EV 7   181,017 135,763
G. H. W. Bush  EV 1 572,086  EV 4 286,043  EV 6   190,695 143,022
Ross Perot  EV 3 353,741  EV 8 176,871   117,914   88,435.3
Andre Marrou      6,781      3,390.5       2,260.33     1,695.25

In 1992 Arizona was authorized eight Electoral College votes. The above illustrates that with the Jefferson/D’Hondt method, the allocations would have been: Clinton, three EVs; Bush, three EVs; and Perot, two EVs. The results of using the top-two method without simulating ranked choice voting are illustrated below.

1992 POTUS Top-Two Proportional Electoral Vote Calculation for ArizonaEV #: Allocated Electoral College Vote
Divisor  1  2  3  4
Bill Clinton  EV 2  543,050  EV 4  271,525  EV 6   181,017  EV 8 135,763
G. H. W. Bush  EV 1 572,086  EV 3  286,043  EV 5  190,695  EV 7 143,022

 In 1992 with Top-Two Proportional Electoral Vote Allocation, Arizona’s eight electoral votes would have been evenly split between Clinton and Bush. Exit polls indicate that Perot pulled a comparable number of votes from Clinton and Bush. Therefore, with ranked choice voting the votes would have been equally split.

1960 Presidential Election

The presidential election between Democratic Party nominee John F. Kennedy and Republican Party nominee Richard Nixon was the closest race since 1916. It was selected as a test case for the Top-2 Proportional Allocation/Jefferson (T-2PA/J) method because it was a close race and there was no third candidate receiving at least 1% of the national popular vote. The table below compares the 1960 election results with those using the T-2PA/J method without RCV simulation. A total of 68,832,482 votes were cast for POTUS candidates. The total number of ECVs in 1960 was 537 with a majority being 269.

Electoral Vote Method Comparison for 1960 ElectionPEV: Plurality winner-take-all Electoral Vote method
T2EV: Top-Two Proportional Allocation/Jefferson Electoral Vote method
*: ignores faithless and unpledged electors
   Candidate      Votes    %  PEV    % T2EV    %
J. F. Kennedy 34,220,984 49.72 317* 59.03 273 50.84
Richard Nixon 34,108,157 49.55 220* 40.97 264 49.16

There is a poor correlation of the national popular vote percentage for each candidate with the plurality winner-take-all electoral vote percentage. There is a close correlation of the national popular vote percentage for each candidate with the T-2PA/J electoral vote percentage. It is important to note that even though the top-two candidate national popular vote difference was slight, the T-2PA/J method provided a majority electoral vote.

 1992 Presidential Election

The 1992 Presidential Election was unusual with independent candidate Ross Perot receiving 18.91% of the total popular votes cast. Consequently, Republican nominee George H. W. Bush received only 37.45% of the total votes and no majority of the votes cast in any state. Democratic nominee Bill Clinton received only 43.01% of the total votes and a majority of the votes cast in Arkansas and the District of Columbia. And yet Mr. Clinton received 370 (68.77%) of the ECVs even though approximately 57% of the popular votes were cast for some other candidate. The election was selected as a test case for the T-2PA/J method because it was the only election in the past several decades with a strong third candidate.

The table below compares the 1992 election results with those using the T-2PA/J method without RCV simulation. A total of 104,423,923 votes were cast for POTUS candidates. The total number of ECVs in 1992 was 538 with a majority being 270.

Electoral Vote Method Comparison for 1992 ElectionPEV: Plurality winner-take-all Electoral Vote method
T2EV: Top-Two Proportional Allocation/Jefferson Electoral Vote method
   Candidate      Votes    %  PEV    % T2EV    %
Bill Clinton 44,909,889 43.01 350 65.06 290 53.90
G. H. W. Bush 39,104,550 37.45 188 34.94 248 46.10

Mr. Clinton won approximately 5.5% more of the national popular votes than Mr. Bush and not a majority. However, with the plurality winner-take-all electoral vote method, Mr. Clinton won approximately 30% more ECVs. But with the T-2PA/J method, Mr. Clinton won 7.8% more ECVs and won a majority. 

2000 Presidential Election

The 2000 presidential election was a very close race between Republican Party nominee George W. Bush and Democratic Party nominee Al Gore. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received 2.74% of the national popular contributing to neither Bush nor Gore receiving a majority popular vote. This election was selected as a T-2PA/J method test case because the popular vote winner, Gore, lost to the ECV majority vote winner, Bush.

The table below compares the 2000 election results with those using the T-2PA/J method without RCV simulation. A total of 105,405,100 votes were cast for POTUS candidates. The total number of ECVs in 2000 was 538 with a majority being 270.

Electoral Vote Method Comparison for 2000 ElectionPEV: Plurality winner-take-all Electoral Vote method
T2EV: Top-Two Proportional Allocation/Jefferson Electoral Vote method
   Candidate      Votes    %  PEV    % T2EV    %
G. W. Bush 50,456,002 47.86 271 50.37 268 49.81
Al Gore 50,999,897 48.38 267 49.63 270 50.19

If the T-2PA/J method had been used in the 2000 election, national popular vote winner Gore, would have won an ECV majority.

2016 Presidential Election

The 2016 Presidential Election was selected as a T-2PA/J method test case because even though Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, had almost 2.9 million more national popular votes than Republican nominee, Donald Trump, Mr. Trump won the election with a majority of the ECVs. 

The table below compares the 2016 election results with those using the T-2PA/J method without simulating RCV. A total of 136,669,237 votes were cast for POTUS candidates. The total number of ECVs in 2016 was 538 with a majority being 270.

Electoral Vote Method Comparison for 2016 ElectionPEV: Plurality winner-take-all Electoral Vote method
T2EV: Top-Two Proportional Allocation/Jefferson Electoral Vote method
*: ignores faithless and unpledged electors
   Candidate      Votes    %  PEV    % T2EV    %
Hillary Clinton 65,853,516 48.18 232* 43.12 271 50.37
Donald Trump 62,984,825 46.09 306* 56.88 267 49.63

If the T-2PA/J method had been used in the 2016 election, national popular vote winner, Clinton, would have won an ECV majority.

2020 Presidential Election

The 2020 Presidential Election was selected as a T-2PA/J method test case because: it had the highest voting participation percentage since 1900; it is the most recent election; and it was plagued with recounts, audits, and court challenges incentivized by the utilized single choice plurality, winner-take-all, voting method.

The table below compares the 2020 election results with those using the T-2PA/J method without simulating RCV. A total of 158,383,403 votes were cast for POTUS candidates. The total number of ECVs in 2020 was 538 with a majority being 270.

Electoral Vote Method Comparison for 2020 ElectionPEV: Plurality winner-take-all Electoral Vote method
T2EV: Top-Two Proportional Allocation/Jefferson Electoral Vote method
   Candidate      Votes    %  PEV    % T2EV    %
Joe Biden 81,268,924 51.31 306 56.88 276 51.30
Donald Trump 74,216,154 46.86 232 43.12 262 48.70

Ranked Choice Voting Enhancement

If the states would utilize ranked choice voting (RCV) in their POTUS election process, then residents who voted for their preferred candidate, could avoid the “wasted vote” or “spoiler” effects that occur with single choice plurality voting. Also, if one of the top-two winners was one of the voter’s ranked choices, then the voter would feel like his/her vote made a difference. If the states continued the instant runoff voting elimination rounds until only the top-two winners remained, then there would be further improvement in the correlation of popular vote percentage to ECVs percentage.

A Desirable and Achievable POTUS Election Method

Coupling the Jefferson proportional allocation method with the Top-Two Proportional Allocation method advocated by the Election Reformers Network, results in a highly desirable replacement for the winner-take-all Electoral College Vote allocation currently implemented by the District of Columbia and all states except Maine and Nebraska. When enhanced with ranked choice voting, the T-2PA/J method should satisfy the desires of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact promoters while avoiding the cost and delays associated with challenging the election results of every state during a close election. It should be supported by major and third political parties and independents because it results in fair elections. It can be implemented by each state — at its own schedule — because it does not require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. State legislatures should consider, evaluate, and then pass legislation to implement the T-2PA/J method. State residents should encourage their legislators to do so before the 2024 Presidential Election. Too often residents of a state rely on Congress or the U. S. Supreme Court to correct injustices implemented by their state legislature instead of replacing their negligent legislators.