Changes to the Electoral College could make all votes count

March, 2018

Former (Republican) Governor, Bill Weld, who ran for Vice President in 2016 on the Libertarian ticket, is suing the state of Massachusetts. He is working in concert with the League of United Latin American Citizens, which has filed similar suits in Texas, California and South Carolina. These suits claim that the “winner take all” system of awarding electoral votes used in 48 states and the District of Columbia (DC) is unconstitutional because it effectively ignores the vote of those who don’t vote for the winner.

It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole discussing the Electoral College and its problems, but briefly:

• American presidents are not elected by the people; they are elected by 538 “Electors” from every state and Washington DC.

• In order to give extra clout to the smaller states, the Constitution provided each state with one Elector for each member of Congress and one for each Senator. (Massachusetts, one of the bigger states, gets 11 Electors currently while neighboring RI, with about one-seventh the population, gets 3.)

• 48 of the 50 states elect all of the Electors pledged to the candidate who wins the statewide ballot. Two, including Maine, award Electors by Congressional District. In 2016, Trump won one Maine Congressional District, Hillary won one, and the two Senatorial Electors went to Hillary for winning the statewide vote.

• Electors don’t always vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged. In 2016, seven “faithless” Electors voted for candidates other than the winner. If enough Electors did this, no candidate would get a majority of Electoral votes (270) and we would have a Constitutional crisis on our hands.

This system can produce a result that varies widely from the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but got only 237 Electoral votes, while Trump, who lost the popular vote, got 304.

If Bill Weld’s suit wins in court, every state would have to change its Electoral system so that each candidate got the same percent of Electors as they got in the popular vote. For example, in Massachusetts Clinton got 60% of the popular vote and under the current system she was awarded all 11 electoral votes. Under the proportional system she would have been given only 6.71 electoral votes; Trump would have received 3.74 and the minor candidates would have split the remaining fractional vote.

I did this calculation for every state and Clinton ends up with 257.09 electoral votes while Trump would have received 253.54. The remainder would have gone to “third-party” candidates.

This does not mean that Clinton would have won, because 270 electoral votes are required and she would have had only 257.

Fortunately there’s a way to avoid this impasse: “Ranked Choice” voting (go to for details). (This voting method has been used in Cambridge, Mass. since 1941.) Instead of checking off one candidate for President, you would indicate a first and second choice (a “one” and a “two.”). All the “ones” are counted, giving you two leaders. Then you return to the ballots which had neither leader as “one” and count their “twos” to get the final count for each of the top candidates.

Electoral votes would then be assigned based on the percentage of total votes received by each of the top two candidates.

In the case of Trump and Clinton we cannot say who would have won because we do not know the second choice of those who voted for third party candidates.

There are several advantages to this system.

• First, it brings the Electoral College more in line with the popular vote, while preserving the advantage it gives to the smaller states.

• Second, this system makes every vote count. No longer will a Republican in Massachusetts or a Democrat in Alabama be wasting their time voting for President. Each vote influences a small percentage of the electoral vote. Turn-out should go up.

• Third, those who wish to make a statement by voting for a third party will not be losing their right to vote for one of the major party candidates. By indicating one of them as second choice, they will make their statement with their first vote and help determine the winner with their second.

To me this sounds like a real advance of our electoral system that also preserves the Electoral College. While I would prefer a direct popular vote, I don’t think the small states will ever let that happen. This is the next best thing.

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