We can keep the electoral college and still get results closer to the popular vote

November 2016

Donald Trump just became the fifth president to get elected after losing the popular vote – the second in my lifetime. I am one of the many Americans who think that our President should be elected by popular vote and that the Electoral College is an anachronism that should be abolished. I support the interstate compact being passed in many states that would bypass the electoral college by awarding all electors to the winning candidate (http://www.nationalpopularvote.com).

However, judging from the editorials I read shortly after the election there are many knowledgeable Americans who truthfully believe that the Electoral College has an important role to play in our Presidential elections.

It seems to me that the situation is ripe for compromise. Suppose we could keep the Electoral College, and the advantages it gives to smaller states, yet make it more reflective of the popular vote? This could be accomplished simply by passing a law requiring proportional allocation of electoral votes. No Constitutional Amendment is required.

Replacing “winner take all” with a proportional system means that each candidate gets the percentage of electors in each state that corresponds to the percentage of the vote they received. For example, in Massachusetts Clinton got 61% 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 for victory. That’s where another idea comes into play, “ranked choice” voting (go to www.fairvote.com for details). This voting method has been used in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 1941, and many other cities have adopted it. The people of Maine, for example, voted in 2017 to become the first to use it in state-wide and Congressional elections.

It’s simple. In this case, 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, which determines the top two candidates. Then you return to the ballots which had neither of those candidates 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 gotten more than half the vote because we do not know the second choice of those who voted for third party candidates.

There are many advantages to this system. Most importantly 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. It could be the first major bipartisan action of the new administration.

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