Saturday, November 26, 2016

The inequity of the electoral college

or potentially how sk(cr)ewed are we?

This presidential election cycle in the US has given me much to think about. Especially post-election. Twice in my lifetime now we've elected a president with less than half of popular vote. When Gore lost in 2000 the margins were close (.5% of the popular vote), it's less so this time with Hillary Clinton standing at roughly 2 million votes and counting (or currently by a margin of 1.5%)

It got me wondering just how this could pencil out that the electoral college can skew the popular vote? I started doing a little research and a little simple math to see just how skewed (or screwed) we could be.

So, the electoral college has a representative for each member of the House and Senate. And that's the reason for the skewed representation. The senate is not based on population. So, out of the 535 votes, 100 are not based on population (one for each member in the Senate). Forget the fact that this approach seems somewhat feudal in approach (where only land-owners were allowed to vote).

Just how sk(cr)ewed are we. Well I grabbed data from the 2010 census, which is used to determine the electoral distribution. And it's ugly.

If we take the largest states and assume they all vote for the losing ticket, then the winning ticket gets the smallest margin of the winning vote, the outcome becomes just 21.5% of the population determining the outcome of the election. This is a highly unrealistic outcome, but theoretically possible. It shows that one-fifth of the population of the United States can select the president of the United States.

The simulation below accumulates the population of the most populous states with a losing electoral count. Then assume the remaining states a simple majority votes the other way (66,298,350).

state: California
state: Texas
state: New York
state: Florida
state: Illinois
state: Pennsylvania
state: Ohio
state: Michigan
state: Georgia
state: North Carolina
state: New Jersey
pop: 175547114, half electoral: 270

That gives the worst skewed case where the minority of 21.5% of the population selects the president. Surely any system that could so poorly represent the wishes of a majority must be broken or open to manipulation.

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