Fuzzy Math: Wrong Way Reforms for Allocating Electoral College Votes

Monideepa Talukdar, Robert Richie, and Ryan O'Donnell // Published September 16, 2011

This paper analyzes two of the three major options available to state leaders interested in taking action to reform how a state allocates its Electoral College votes: the whole number proportional plan and congressional district system. The report evaluates them on the basis of whether they promote majority rule, make elections more nationally competitive, reduce incentives for partisan machinations, and make all votes count equally. We use vote returns from a number of previous elections to analyze what the outcomes would have been if Electoral College votes had been allocated according to the whole number proportional and the congressional district systems. 

Our analysis reveals that both of these methods fail to meet our criteria. Neither reform option promotes majority rule, greater competitiveness nor voter equality. Pursued at a state level, both reforms dramatically increase incentives for partisan machinations. If done nationally, the congressional district system has a sharp partisan tilt toward the Republican Party, while the whole number proportional system sharply increases the odds of contingent elections (the selection of president by the U.S. House of Representatives).

For states seeking to exercise their responsibility under the U.S. Constitution to choose a method of allocating electoral votes that best serves their state’s interest and that of the national interest, both alternatives fall far short of the National Popular Vote plan, a third reform option which is under consideration in a number of states.