Would Alternatives to the Electoral College Be Any Fairer?

by John Sides on November 28, 2012 · 4 comments

in Campaigns and elections

In the election for President of the United States, the Electoral College is the body whose members vote to elect the President directly. Each state sends a number of delegates equal to its total number of representatives and senators in Congress; all but two states (Nebraska and Maine) assign electors pledged to the candidate that wins the state’s plurality vote. We investigate the effect on presidential elections if states were to assign their electoral votes according to results in each congressional district,and conclude that the direct popular vote and the current electoral college are both substantially fairer compared to those alternatives where states would have divided their electoral votes by congressional district.

From a new paper by A.C. Thomas, our own Andrew Gelman, Gary King, and Jonathan Katz.  An ungated version is here.

{ 4 comments }

DavidT November 28, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I think your title is misleading. “Would Alternatives to the Electoral College Be Any Fairer?” and “Would allocating electoral votes by congressional district be any fairer?” are two different questions. The latter is *one* alternative to the Electoral College, and one so open to obvious objections (above all, the added incentive to gerrymandering) that I would hardly call it the leading alternative.

Nadia Hassan November 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm

One quirk to the popular vote directly is that it takes quite a bit of time to trickle in, and that could matter in a close race. Also, it might be difficult to figure out where the missing vote is, etc.

JC November 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Increasingly there seems little reason to not just have a national popular vote. All the electronic voting makes most of the vote collection faster. States could still run the system, formally counting and publishing the number of votes for each candidate in their state. Congress could still formally count and ratify the results just as they do now, but they would count and compile the popular vote totals from each state, instead of the electoral vote totals from each state. Since Congress does not do this until January, this would give plenty of time for states and counties to count all absentee and provisional ballots, and conduct any recounts as necessary. It would actually give states more time since currently they have to ratify their state results prior to the Electoral College’s meeting in December.

This is simple, requires no new federal bureaucracy (or even state bureaucracy), and would result in what is normatively the fairest system – the candidate with the most total votes wins.

jason December 1, 2012 at 11:27 pm

It’s not surprising that the study would find allocating electoral votes by congressional district; the result in Nebraska was to redraw the district to prevent Obama from winning a second time. Given the unlikeliness of a constitutional amendment, I favor the national electoral vote compact, where states agree to award their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote once states with 270 electoral votes sign on.

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