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Why the Electoral College sucks, graphically.

Our anachronistic Electoral College makes no sense any more.

The Electoral College is left over from the days when presidents were elected by appointed representatives from each state. Each state gets a number of electors to the Electoral College equal to the number of Representatives and Senators it has in Congress. This distorts how much influence each state has on picking the president not only because of the extra two Senators, but also because states with extremely low populations still get at least one Representative. As a result, voters from states with very low populations tend to be over-represented in the Electoral College, plus there are rounding errors. This is shown in the following chart (from the New York Times):


The light colored numbers in each state show how many actual voters are represented by each Elector, with the size of the state showing the relative influence of each voter. The least represented voters this election are in Florida, where each Elector represents 479,878 voters. The most represented voters are in Wyoming, where each Elector represents 134,783 voters. That means that each Wyoming voter has 3.56 times more say than a Florida voter over who will be the next president!

So much for “one person one vote”. This is way worse than any voter fraud we have ever seen — can you imagine the uproar if we found out that people from certain areas were voting three times instead of once?



  1. Katrina K wrote:

    This is what most people call blogspam — taking content from other sites without attribution, lacing it with some text that adds virtually nothing, and then pushing it as your own.

    I see that you’ve at least linked to the original at NYT, but honestly, no citation or mention whatsoever? Is this how you would want your work to be treated?

    Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 10:35 pm | Permalink
  2. theft wrote:

    This is a crappy visualization. It ignores the winner-takes-all nature of the electoral college. It ignores whether states are guaranteed strongholds for a particular party.

    Resize the map by dividing the number of electors by the difference between the number of likely conservative & liberal voters. Florida won’t look so small. That will show you what your vote is worth, due to the electoral college. And it will be just as frustrating a picture.

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 12:51 am | Permalink
  3. Jarod B. wrote:

    I think the point is that the electoral college is bullshit and the winner-take-all system is flawed…
    it should be banished

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  4. I disagree with Katerina. I’ve seen much cases of content theft and I wouldn’t call this post that way, even though attributing it to the NY Times would have been nice.

    Anyway, good post. I’m not from the US so it’s interesting to learn more about your electoral system.

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 2:13 am | Permalink
  5. Brian wrote:

    You obviously have missed the point of the elctoral college.

    The establishment of 3 minimum votes is to protect the populations of every state. The result means states with lower populations aren’t forgoten and pushed aside by the big populations. If you disagree with the elctroal college, please do so with appropriatly.

    An appropriate argument would have been: The need to protect small populated states is not nessecary in today’s society.

    In which case, you are still wrong. Let’s face it – large populations are concentrated in the urban and suburban populations. These groups of people in no way can represent a large portion of Americans who are the backbone of the economey: the farmers and more rural America. That is why it is still in place.

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 7:33 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    I try to be diligent about attribution, so even though I already had a link to the original NY Times article, I added a second link, this one more explicit. Sorry for any confusion.

    I was a bit hurt that someone thought that the text added “virtually nothing”.

    An informed discussion of the proper reuse of content in blogs would be valuable, but probably not here. I write quite a bit of original content (including doing lots of research) and invariably other people take it and post it on their blogs without any attribution or referring links at all. To be honest, while I might prefer to get some credit, I’m more concerned about the ideas getting out there and sparking discussion. So I’m not too bothered about it.

    I have also emailed other authors and cartoonists and asked them for permission to reuse their content in my blog, and so far everyone contacted has given me permission (and many are even enthusiastic about it getting more distribution). So I don’t think I am alone in caring more about ideas getting out there than worrying about getting credit. It isn’t about me.

    I think a critical issue is intent. I make no money from this blog; in fact it costs me money, not to mention the considerable time spent working on it. I would be slightly miffed if someone stole my work in order to make a profit from it, and didn’t credit me.

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  7. Michael wrote:

    I live in Nevada, and we actually DO vote 3 times. Or 10. Hey, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, after all. To all you saps in Florida getting screwed by the system, feel free to move to Vegas and vote as often as you like. As long as you’re Democrats. The state doesn’t need any more Republicans 😉

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    Will someone please explain to me why the electoral college protects “farmers and rural populations”? Look at the corridor between northern Virginia and Boston, which includes 10 states (including DC). And yet this area is heavily urban and has few farmers. Compare this to the west coast, which has only three states and has lots of farmers. Which area gets more representation in the Electoral College?

    Or try this mind experiment: Let’s say that instead of California being a single state, it is instead divided up into three smaller states (we used to call these — from the top down — NoCal, SoCal, and LoCal). Suddenly Californians get more influence in the electoral college. Are the farmers more protected in this new scenario?

    Monday, November 3, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  9. Alex wrote:

    So you are saying that hicks and farmers should have greater voting power as they are the backbone of society?

    What about policemen, doctors and other civil servants?

    How about the fact that the majority of income comes from the cities and that farmers are actually supported by these people in the form of subsidies?

    I was under the impression that America was the land of the free and equal. Clearly I was wrong; rednecks are more equal than city folk.

    A fair vote means that everyone has a fair say, regardless of which side of a state border they live on.

    It defies logic to think that a state with a lower population should have more power per citizen, just because it has a lower population.

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  10. Jenni wrote:

    OK…so Obama gets 53% of the popular vote to McCain’s 46%. Electoral votes give O:68% and M:31%. But you seem to be saying that states like California, New York and Florida need a higher percentage of electoral votes because their populations are under-represented???

    Florida was almost 50/50, but got 27 votes for 1 man. Texas was 55/44 and has 34 votes for 1 man. Pennsylvania was also 55/44 and has 21 votes for 1 man.

    I’m not arguing that Obama didn’t win, because he did win fair and square, just that he didn’t win by as large a margin as the electoral system would have it appear. I think the time has come to abolish the electoral system altogether.

    See for times when the electoral college actually failed.

    Friday, November 7, 2008 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  11. to the guy who complained about this ripped from the NYT – none of us would have see it otherwise

    Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 1:50 am | Permalink
  12. amanda wrote:

    if we didnt have an electoral college then it wouldnt be a fair voting time. the west and east would have the chance to decide on who the next winner would be. it wouldnt be fair on the middle-west people cause the west and east coast have more people than other states

    Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  13. Why the Electoral College sucks, graphically.

    Our anachronistic Electoral College makes no sense any more.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 2:40 am | Permalink
  14. disabled Vietvet wrote:

    electoral college – what a rigged for the big wigs pile of (not printable) this is — a white elephant left over from the aristocracy days of old. If it is to be kept maybe the benefits and liabilities of citizenship should be proportioned in like manner.

    Take the draft for instance If the votes in one state are 3 times more influential than in another state due to this pile of (again not printable) then residents in the former state should be 3 times more likely to be drafted. Or maybe they should receive 1/3 the benefits as a disabled veteran (like myself) compared to the disable residents of the latter underrepresented state.

    best not get started. MAKE IT GO AWAY

    Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  15. Jeff wrote:


    Friday, November 21, 2008 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  16. I think the reality in the end is that we will not see it changed any time soon or in our lifetimes. It is the basis of the current political system.
    It would take a landslide popular vote winner, who also LOSES the electoral vote – for there to be a big enough uprising to change the system. That wont happen. There might be close popular vote counts, but there will not be a landslide vote winner who also loses the electoral vote.

    Political Disgust

    Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  17. Dan wrote:

    Require a national voter ID card which requires proof of us citizenship to get and harsh penalties for fraud and you would have a entirely different result for most elections. In all my 65 years, I have never seen the mass media so “in the tank” for one candidate.

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  18. Ethan R. wrote:

    I think that this is a very true fact that no one notices but should be recognized more. No state such as Wyoming should have more representation per elector than Florida. They should somehow be proportionately equal. And if someone found this in the NYT then they should officially recognize them, because after all fair is fair.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  19. Shaun wrote:

    Beyond the fact this is obviously stolen, there is another huge flaw. The problem is that the electoral college wasn’t created for 1 person 1 vote…that would be a democracy. Much to many peoples surprise, we are not a democracy. We are a republic, our votes mean absolutely nothing…we don’t even have a right to vote constitutionally. Instead, we give people the right to vote for people who will represent them. As Ben Franklin once said, a democracy is two wolves and one sheep deciding on whats for dinner.

    The founders felt democracy was the most dangerous form of government, more dangerous than even a monarchy. Unfortunately the left wing media tries to push the idea of a democracy onto a public that was educated by the government to believe we are a democracy

    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Permalink
  20. Student of History wrote:

    This sort of article drives me crazy. The point of the electoral college is simple and important. We live in country formed out of separate states, and the state divides are important. It’s why each state legislates on it’s own and has it’s own government. States have their own rights, that need to be protected. A state with more real estate (and consequently a large pop.) does not have greater rights then a State with a smaller pop, legally speaking.

    I put up with having a vote that means less because I like the weather in California. It’s a choice you make about where you live, just like picking a house based on property tax.

    The argument should not be about protecting the farmers. It’s about protecting the individual states. Now, you can argue against the importance of State rights, but don’t veil it in a weak argument about the electoral college being “unfair” to the poor voters.

    The round off error is unfortunate, but unavoidable.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  21. greg wrote:


    That site you posted left off W. Bush, although I suppose it is forgivable given that it is only written a month after the election.

    Friday, January 30, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  22. Faceinthecrowd wrote:

    You’ve apparently also missed that the USA is a Republic (representative vote) and not a Democracy (direct popular vote)

    Sunday, September 5, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Permalink
  23. Iron Knee wrote:

    FaceInTheCrowd, the electoral college has absolutely nothing to do with whether we are a republic or a democracy.

    Monday, September 6, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

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