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Reform America, Inc.

Brief on Electoral College Reform Options

prepared by

This is a brief summary of some of the electoral college reform options being discussed around the country. I'm first going to refer you to a couple of web sites that might be of interest and use, then I'll briefly summarize the reform options. If you would like to add to this list please email me at

First I refer you to an editorial I wrote that has been published and reproduced in several media outlets. Every Vote Counts -- Just Another Election Fallacy can be found on the web at: http://reformamericainc.org/editorial--electionfalacy.shtml. This editorial looks at one possible reform option: proportional allocation of Electoral College votes inside each state.

Also take a look at Electing Change, an article found in a Savannah, Georgia newspaper: http://reformamericainc.org/article--electingchange.shtml. This is a friendly article that interviews some election experts and commentators, but focuses on the views of Savannah locals.

Lastly I refer you to the web site of the Center for Voting and Democracy (http://www.fairvote.com/). They have many library resources you will find useful. Their web site is: www.fairvote.org. Also on their site is a listing of many if not most of the media reports on some aspect of electoral reform.

Now to briefly summarize the reform options being discussed in regards to the Electoral College. I'll include web links throughout as appropriate for more information.


The system works as it is supposed to. Each state is given electoral votes equal to the number of representatives they have in the US House of Representatives (as determined by the census), plus two to represent the two US Senators from each state. The Electoral College allows for smaller states to have an influence, carrying a minimum of three electoral votes, and it also gives the more populous states a greater voice. In order to win a candidate has to win the support of a mixture of states. The President is representing the interests of the Union -- the states, and is elected by the states.


But, some critics say, candidates are winning states with a plurality of votes, not a majority. The final Florida tally was very near a 50-50 split between Gore and Bush, but Bush still took all 25 electoral votes. Why can't we allocate the electoral votes proportionally in each state? This would have given in Florida 13 votes to Bush and 12 to Gore. In your home state of Pennsylvania Gore would have won 12 and Bush 11. This is a much fairer way of ensuring that every voter casts a ballot that counts for something. Under the current system in Pennsylvania voters that cast their ballot for Bush might as well ought to have stayed home, because Gore got all 23 Electoral College votes. Under this system also voters would always have incentive to get to the polls, even if the media are reporting that their candidate is losing the state. Every vote counts using this method!


There is another way. In Maine they allocate each electoral vote per congressional district. The plurality winner in each Congressional district gets one electoral vote. The winner of the statewide popular vote in awarded the additional two electoral votes.

http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/ (see Voting Systems/Alternative Vote)

That sounds like a good idea and a more representative way of allocating electoral votes, but isn't there some way to make it even more representative? I mean, what happens if Bush gets 45% of the vote in a district, Gore gets 40%, and the remaining 15% are distributed among third party candidates like Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan? To help us here we can use a system called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). In each district voters will rank order the candidates on the ballot in order of preference (1, 2, 3, etc), instead of marking a single 'X' near a single name. In order to win a candidate needs a majority (at least 50% of the vote). The candidate that has the least number of votes after the first count of ballots is eliminated and all voters that cast their ballot for that candidate have their votes transferred to their second choice candidates. So if Buchanan had the least number of votes (say 3%), his votes are transferred to the voters' second choice, say Bush. So now Bush has 48%, Gore has 40%, and Nader has 12%. Nader is now eliminated and voters' that cast their first choice on the ballot for him have their votes transferred to their second choice. This would -- for simplicity sake -- put Gore to 52% and Bush at 48%. Gore wins the district. See the links above for more descriptive examples of IRV.


But why keep the Electoral College at all? Why bother with all these voting methods? Can't we just have direct election of the President? Shouldn't the President be the person that wins the national popular vote?


That is a possibility. But is it really democratic and fair to award the presidency to a candidate that has a mere plurality of popular support? How about we use Instant Runoff Voting at the national level. Sure we'll need to have a uniform national ballot and uniform ballot access laws in every state, but shouldn't we have that anyway? Shouldn't we all have the same choice when it comes to choosing the person that represents and leads the country, just as every voter in every county and town has the same choice of candidates for Governor in a state? So here we will have the President as the national vote winner, with a majority of support.

This has been a very brief discussion of some of the aspects of the various reform options out there. I could very easily write a book on this subject. For example I failed to discuss some of the negative or possibly negative aspects of some of the reform proposals. For instance using a proportional allocation method for awarding electoral votes in each state might increase the possibility of throwing an election into the US House of Representatives (which happens if no candidate gets a majority of electoral votes), which arguably is even less representative than a state-by-state plurality winner. Another example of a negative is with the popular vote. There is a possibility that candidates would outright ignore the less-populated states and regions of states, spending all of their resources in high-population areas. This can be true with other systems as well.

Reform America, Inc.