Electoral College Math Addendum

Mexican Math Lady here, guest-blogging to add some simple math to illustrate Tico’s post below (not the “stop fucking that guy” one, the electoral college one – the second post has a totally different kind of calculus involved). In the EC post, he raised two interesting questions that we thought could be illustrated through numbers, so we’re giving those a shot here.

The first question: How much does your vote count?

The answer: It depends. Are you voting in Wyoming?

Tico’s previous post points out that the electoral college skews the impact of your vote based on where you are living (or more correctly, where you are voting). How can we measure how much of an impact that has?

We tried the following simple comparison:

Under the popular vote system, each vote has an equal impact across the total US population (around 311MM in 2011 based on US Census estimates).

In an electoral college system, the idea is that each state has roughly the same proportionate representation as it would have based on population — but any kid who has ever cursed fractions knows that this isn’t really possible. Let’s take Delaware as an example.

DE Population = 907,135
US population = 311,591,917

If 1 vote truly equaled 1 vote, Delaware would have 0.29% of the total impact on the US vote.* If we stick with the 538 total Electoral College votes, that’s approximately 1.566275 people.

Since electors are actual people, unless you’re getting into some “Saw”-level gore, you’re not going to get 56% of a person into the room at all, much less in a state to cast a ballot.

Because of this, we estimate. But estimates get messy, especially when the total numbers are so large, and the minimum number of electoral college votes for any state or District is 3, for reasons having to do with the Senate and the House and I have to assume the fact that none of the electors want to show up to the big event without a posse (this last one makes more sense to me than the minimum-elected-representatives thing).

Looking at the new total impact of a vote in any given state, instead of a 1-to-1 ratio, we have to make it more complicated:

1 vote in any given state=

(1/[State population]) * (State electoral votes/538)

So while the voting base remains the same, votes in individual states get distorted — some just a little, some trimmed down to mere fractions of actual people, some hyper-inflated to the point of ridiculousness (Wyoming, I’m looking at you).

Here’s a quick chart to show you how this impacts your vote based on where you live (population based on 2011 US Census data estimates). If it makes you more comfortable, you can also think of this as measuring “How Much of a Person Do I Count As Under the Electoral College System?”  (For reference, I am 86% of a full human being according to the EC system here in New York. Thanks, Founders!)

Your Vote Counts In Wyoming

The second question: Which party, if either, does this system help?

The answer turns out to be: Republicans, but only a little.

Our thought experiment here was pretty back-of-the-envelope, but we thought the results  were interesting.

1. Take a generic electoral map. (Let’s use this as as a base), and segment the states into three simple buckets: reliably red states, reliably blue states, and swing states

2. Assume as your baseline that there is no internal division in the reliable states (all popular votes in Georgia will go to Republicans, all NY votes to Democrats), and the swing states will all vote an even 50-50 split between the two parties.**

3. Take the “weighted” impact of those voters due to the electoral college skews above.

This is what you get:

Estimated % of Total Votes Republican Democrat Swing
Popular Vote model 33% 38% 29%
Electoral College model 36% 37% 27%
With Swing votes evenly divided
Popular Vote model 48% 52%
Electoral College model 49% 51%

So the answer is, the Electoral College system seems to throw a little more weight behind Republicans than they’d otherwise get, but not much. This lends a little more credence to the idea that the EC is most important in tight elections — when a little push is all one party needs to cross the finish line.


*We are assuming for simplicity that about the same proportion of the overall population in each state is eligible to vote — we can do another fun post about how things like student, prison and other non-voting demographics skew the numbers even further later on.

**Clearly, that’s not the case – although this is in effect what happens with the Electoral College system in many U.S. states. Tico’s post points out conceptually how the EC model is particularly unfair to minority-party voters in states reliably voting for either party. But this is a math thought-experiment, so for the purposes of our baseline, let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt and say the liberals in red states balance out the conservatives in blue ones and vice versa.

Categories: Politics Fix

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1 reply

  1. Special thanks to the Mexican Math Lady for turning some of my ideas into cool visual representations.

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