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Maryland Sidesteps Electoral College

From Brian Witte of the Associated Press:

Maryland officially became the first state on Tuesday to approve a plan to give its electoral votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the candidate chosen by state voters.

‘Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed the measure into law, one day after the state’s General Assembly adjourned.

The measure would award Maryland’s 10 electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. The plan would only take effect if states representing a majority of the nation’s 538 electoral votes decided to make the same change.

. . .

Other states are considering the change . . . National Popular Vote, a group that supports the change, said there are legislative sponsors for the idea in 47 states. . . . But not everyone is buying into the idea. North Dakota and Montana rejected it earlier this year. Opponents say the change would hurt small rural states, where the percentage of the national vote would be even smaller than the three electoral votes they each have in the overall Electoral College.

“Even smaller” . . . that’s right. North Dakota has 640,000 people–that’s 0.21% of the U.S. population. Their share of 538 electoral votes is 0.0021 x 538 = 1.15. Explain again why they should get more electoral votes than, say, the 679,000 people in Cobb County, Georgia, or the 668,000 people in Will County, Illinois?

8 Comments

  1. Boris S. says:

    Well … we have lots of antimajoritarian institutions, and we don't think them all bad (eg, 9 unelected judges deciding national policy).

  2. Blevins says:

    …well, this nation is officially founded & named as the:

    "United States of America"

    It is a political 'federation' of individual sovereign 'states'.

    That's why the 'states' elect the 'president' of their federation via the electoral college process.

    State government officials (including Electoral College representatives) are indeed directly elected by popular vote within the sovereign states. The "people" are not cut out of the Presidential process — it's how representative government works.

    Parliamentary governments (like Britain & Canada) don't directly elect their Chief Executives either.

    So what exactly is the problem ? If you don't like the concept of a federated union of states — you need to get some major amendments enacted to the U.S. Constitution.

  3. reply to boris says:

    or even deciding elections, as in 2000.

    nonetheless, the answer to undemocratic aspects of our government is not to shrug and welcome them all, it's to illuminate and then correct them. thanks to andrew for the post.

  4. John S. says:

    Well, putting aside the Connecticut Compromise, the Constitution, and 230 years of U.S. history, as you seem willing to do, then there's no good reason why North Dakota gets one Senator for every 320,000 residents, whereas California gets one for every 18,000,000. Would you favor scrapping the U.S. Senate too?

  5. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the comments. To reply briefly: I'm not making any claims about whether the Electoral College (as originally designed or as currently implemented) is a bad idea, and, yes, I recognize that there are historical reasons why the apportionment system is used and why it has continued to be used.

    My only comment was on the "even smaller" statement. If the North Dakotans had just said "smaller," that would be fine with me. Or if they'd said, "For good historical reasons, we–the small states–are overrepresented in the electoral college, and we think it should stay that way"–then, sure, that's an argument to be considered. I'm certainly responsive to the argument that the current system has worked reasonably well for 230 years. But when they say "even smaller," then it seems to me they're implying that they're representation is already small. But, no, 3 electoral votes for 640,000 people is not "small" at all, given there are only 535 to go around.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I guess I don't see your problem. ND's share of the electoral college is small. Their share of the popular vote is "even smaller." Once you grant that the we live in a Federated world in which the rules of the game are fixed as to votes, they seem to be correct.

    One more point… why should Maryland make their change contingent on other states' behavior? If Maryland votes for the popular vote winner, there is no change at all. If Maryland votes for the popular vote loser, but it doesn't change the electoral college result, there is similarly no problem. Finally, if the change in Maryland votes did affect the winner, shouldn't the passers of this legislation have the courage of their convictions and revers Maryland's vote to go in line with the popular consensus? After all, that's what the universal application of the result would do anyway.

    One final comment… Assuming 2 parties, there are of course 2^50 ways the states could divide up. If all are of equal probability (I realize they aren't, but I'm not sure I know how you'd quantify that 2^50 p-vector) the the probabilities of any 3 vote state changeing the result are, I think, small by anybody's measure. (I'd have to do a quick MC study to actually measure it, but it's small.) Your point, I take it, is that an individual ND voter has more leverage on the election than an individual California voter. That's true, but it doesn't have anything to do with whether or not ND's influence is small, only with whether a typical ND's voter's influence is small. And even if their influence is larger than a Californian's, it still ain't "big."

  7. Roger says:

    For a statistician striving for terminologically correctness, I think that you jumped on the wrong phrase. The error in the article is saying that new plan is to award electoral votes to "the winner of the national popular vote". In fact, the plan is to give the electoral votes to the winner of a plurality of the national popular vote. When we say that the President has to win the electoral vote, that means that he has to win a majority of the electoral vote.

  8. Andrew says:

    Jonathan,

    To see how to quantify the probability of each of the outcomes happening, see this paper of ours. The short answer is that the probability of your state's electoral votes being decisive is roughly proportional to the number of electoral votes in the state (with large variations, of course, because some states are much closer than others).

    Regarding Maryland's law, it makes sense for the proposers of the law to have the clause waiting for all the other states to pass a similar law, since their goal is to push for a national change, not just to make a change in Maryland.

    Roger,

    Yes, that's true, the plurality/majority issue does seem to be a complication. I haven't really thought too hard about this proposal; I'm just sensitive to the large/small state issue since I've thought about these concerns before.