[EM] The Electoral College

Anthony Simmons asimmons at krl.org
Sun Jan 27 20:38:47 PST 2002

>> From: Forest Simmons <fsimmons at pcc.edu>
>> Subject: [EM] The Electoral College (was Interesting use of Borda count)

Interesting discussion of power index, but kind of misses
what I was talking about, which is that when people talk
about the power of the states within the EC, they tend to
equate power of the state with power of the individual voters
within the state, and yet it seems possible for the power of
a state within the Electoral College to be unrelated in any
precise way to the power of the individual voters within the
state, run-on sentence or no.

For example, suppose that Florida has twenty electors (I
don't know the actual number; I'm winging it), and is solidly
committed to, say, Buchanan.  Then no individual voter has
much chance at all of being a crucial vote, so voters in
Florida have little or no power; a voter in Florida can
choose to stay home on election day, knowing it will have no
effect on the outcome.  On the other hand, if voters in
another state, which also has twenty electoral votes, are
evenly divided between Buchanan and Nader, with a small
handful choosing Bush or Gore, then any vote in that state
could be pivotal, so voters in that state have more power
than they do in Florida.  Nevertheless, the states
themselves, as voters within the EC, have equal power.

>> As Markus once pointed out, there are cases where block
>> voting gives disproportionate power to small blocks, and
>> other cases where block voting gives disproportionate
>> power to large blocks. It's not always obvious in any
>> particular case whether the members of small or the
>> members of large blocks are the ones with the relative
>> advantage. That's why the simulations at the above URL are
>> interesting and important.

>> It turns out (in the current EC case) that even though the
>> small states have super proportional representation in the
>> EC, that factor is not enough to make up for the
>> disproportionate power of the larger blocks relative to
>> the smaller blocks.

>> In the original configuration (immediately after the
>> constitutional convention) the smaller states probably had
>> disproportionate power, at least that was the intention.

>> Setting the EC aside, here are two simple examples showing
>> that (1) small blocks can have disproportionate power, and
>> (2) large blocks can sometimes have disproportionate
>> power.  It just happens that the current EC is more like
>> the second example than the first.

>> (1) There are three voting blocks with votes of 48, 49,
>> and 3, respectively.  The block with three votes has just
>> as much power as either of the others (assuming a 50+
>> majority is the quota for passing a measure).

>> (2) There are two voting blocks with votes of 51 and 49,
>> respectively. The block with 49 has nearly half the votes,
>> but no voting power in deciding any measure.

>> Suppose that in this last example, the block with 51 votes
>> actually had 51 voters in it and that the block with 49
>> votes had only one voter in it because of some special
>> dispensation of voting rights.

>> We might think that the voter with 49 votes had a relative
>> advantage to the typical voter with only one vote in the
>> other block.

>> Not so. The single voter with 49 votes has no influence on
>> the outcome of any election, while the voter with only one
>> vote has approximately one chance in nine of making a
>> difference in the outcome of a randomly chosen election.

>> As Richard mentioned, block voting not only tends to give
>> some voters unfair advantage over others, it also dilutes
>> the average voting power, so that the typical voter has
>> less influence in a block voting system than he/she would
>> have in a non-block system.

>> It is ironical indeed that the small states are the ones
>> most dead set against getting rid of the EC system.

>> By the way, some states don't require their electors to
>> vote as a block. It would help a lot if the states were
>> required to allocate their votes as proportional as
>> possible.  But the large states would never go for this,
>> since they would lose a relative advantage.

>> Forest

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