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Topic: Math and the electoral college's virtue
Replies: 27   Last Post: Mar 30, 2007 6:07 AM

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 Mike Oliver Posts: 1,518 Registered: 12/6/04
Re: Math and the electoral college's virtue
Posted: Nov 13, 2000 7:05 PM

"David C. Ullrich" wrote:
> Curious. Say you're living in a state that's overwhelmingly
> for candidate XXX and you favor candidate A. Your vote has
> essentially no effect under the current system - under a straight
> popular vote it would have the same effect as everyone else's.

That is, essentially none.

> Maximizing voter's "power" is a good thing, but equating this
> "power" with the probability that the vote will decide the
> election is absurd.

Since at the end of the day I'm more or less an (individualist) anarchist,
I'm not going to enter into a normative discussion of what constitutes
a "good" voting system. But *descriptively* this idea of voter
power makes a lot of sense, and implies that almost everyone who hasn't
specifically studied the issue has precisely the wrong notion about
who is favored by the electoral college system.

Most people who look at the issue superficially note that even the
least populous state gets three electors, and conclude (quite wrongly)
that the system gives disproportionate power to the small states
because their ratio of electoral votes to population is higher.

In fact, it's easy to see that other things being equal (the "other
things" are e.g. the closeness of the race in your state and the
proportion of undecideds), your chance of deciding the election
is proportional to 1/sqrt(n) where n is the number of voters.
Since the number of electoral votes is (roughly) proportional to n,
it follows that your power is approximately proportional to sqrt(n).
That is, the system gives disproportionate power to voters in *large*
states.

Now you might well ask what practical difference this makes, given
that (all the propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding) never
has a state really been decided by a one-vote margin.

Well, the reason it makes a difference is that the same arguments
hold for, say, a block of 100,000 votes. So lets say I know I'm
soon going to be running for president, and I'm in charge of
a committee that's assigning a pork-barrel project that I expect
to be worth 100,000 votes in the state in which I place it, and
my choices are California and Wyoming. If my main concern is
my presidential ambitions, I'd be nuts to put it in Wyoming.

Now all this is basically a consequence of the winner-take-all
rule that most states have adopted. If electors were to be
assigned proportionally to the vote in each state, then
the two votes each state gets corresponding to its senators
would indeed mean that the small states would have disproportionate
power.

Date Subject Author
11/10/00 chip_eastham@my-deja.com
11/10/00 Dan Goodman
11/11/00 Marc Fleury
11/12/00 Jim Dars
11/14/00 denis-feldmann
11/14/00 Dan Goodman
11/20/00 Chip Eastham
11/20/00 Herman Rubin
11/20/00 Dan Goodman
11/22/00 Herman Rubin
11/22/00 Dan Goodman
11/12/00 Jon and Mary Frances Miller
11/12/00 Gerry Myerson
11/12/00 Ronald Bruck
11/12/00 Steve Lord
11/13/00 Barry Schwarz
11/13/00 Alan Morgan
11/11/00 David C. Ullrich
11/13/00 Mike Oliver
11/16/00 Robert Harrison
11/17/00 Mike Oliver
11/20/00 Keith Ramsay
11/20/00 Mike Oliver
11/20/00 David C. Ullrich
11/17/00 useless_bum@my-deja.com
11/28/00 Danny Purvis
11/28/00 LOUIS RAYMOND GIELE
3/30/07 Ross Finlayson