Monday, August 16, 2004

Should We Assign Electoral Votes Proportionately?

It's an interesting question and one that will be on the ballot in November in Colorado. In most states, the current electoral college system assigns all of a state's electoral votes (equal to the number of that state's Senators (2) + the number of its congressional seats) to the candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote in that state. Only 2 states do not have a winner take all system: Maine and Nebraska have proportional systems where the winner receives 2 EVs and the remaining electoral votes are assigned to the winner of each congressional district. Supporters of a proportional system collected enough signatures to get it on the ballot in Colorado this November, but it is unclear whether, if the initiative passes, the new system will apply to the 2004 presidential election. Supporters would clearly like it to but both sides expect a court fight on this matter. As you might expect, in a state that went for Bush in 2000, supporters and detractors fall along party lines. If this system had been in place in 2000, Bush's portion of Colorado's 8 EVs would have ben reduced to 5 and Gore would have been assigned 3 EVs, giving Gore the presidency with precisely the magic number of 270 electoral votes needed to win.

Even though many Democrats support this measure, others say it could set a dangerous precedent. Currently, Democrats benefit from being able to count on winning California and New York, a virtual automatic 86 EVs without having to spend precious time or money in these large states with expensive media markets. In addition, if proportional systems are adopted in all states, since it more closely reflects the popular vote, in such an evenly divided nation the electoral college vote could very well be tied 269-269. This is precisely what would have happened in 2000 if every state had such a system in place. The way a tie is broken is pretty complicated, but essentially, it is left up to each state's congressional delegation -- suffice it to say that Democrats DO NOT want a tie.

In the short term, such a system in Colorado would benefit John Kerry, which is precisely why, in all likelihood, the measure will be defeated since George Bush is likely to carry the state by the very same voters voting on the initiative.


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