Michigan Aims to Get Back on the Presidential Election Map, but Risks Wrong-Way-Winners

Posted by Claire Daviss on March 20, 2015
Currently in the Michigan State Legislature, there is a bill to change the way the state allocates its electoral votes to presidential candidates. This bill would adopt the system used in Nebraska and Maine: allocate two electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote, and allocate the rest of the electoral votes by congressional district.

Michigan legislators recognize that the current Electoral College system used by most states is broken. It leaves most states, including Michigan, without campaign attention during presidential elections. This proposal is meant to increase the amount of campaign attention Michigan will receive. However, as the Washington Post points out, this plan comes with several likely negative effects.

First, the plan would increase the likelihood that a candidate could win an election without winning the most votes nationwide. In January, FairVote provided evidence for this theory in its report Fuzzy Math: Wrong Way Reforms for Allocating Electoral Votes.

Second, the plan gives of the appearance of being partisan. Many political scientists have concluded that allocating electoral votes by congressional districts would largely benefit Republican candidates. That is because Republican voters are more sparsely distributed among districts nationwide, whereas Democratic voters tend to be more concentrated in urban districts. FairVote also found similar evidence in its Fuzzy Math report.

There is another way that Michigan can get back on the map for presidential elections. That is using a national popular vote to elect the president. With a national popular vote, every voter in every state would matter, rather than just the voters who are lucky enough to live in a few swing states.

The national popular vote system has zero risk of wrong-way-winners. The candidate that wins the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia would win the election. Additionally, both Republicans and Democrats have won the national popular vote over decades of presidential elections. The system would not unfairly benefit one party over another.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact could bring this idea into action. By signing the compact through a bill in the Michigan State Legislature, Michigan would join other states in promising to award its 16 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The compact only goes into effect when the signing states collectively hold 270 electoral votes; and if Michigan signs on, those states would hold 181 electoral votes.
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