
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 onevote 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 porkbarrel 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 winnertakeall 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.

