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April 05, 2008



And Obama's ahead in the popular vote. But Hillary's ahead by electoral college vote. They're currently at a 1-1 tie in the exciting "commonwealth" race, with Hillary polling ahead in the two remaining commonwealths. Obama, however, has a 6-5 lead in the all-important "original colonies" race, with the candidates expected to split the two remaining states of the original 13.

All of this, as you point out, is in the category of angels dancing on the head of a pin. Of course, Hillary can make the argument that she would be ahead by some other system, but by the system in place she is behind.

With that in mind, all that matters from this perspective is:

- The popular vote, since it does reflect the will of the people to some degree. (I'd personally include Florida but not Michigan in such a count; YMMV.)

- Who would do better in the general election. To that, I refer you to a website I discovered a few days back that immediately became one of my favorites:

Without getting excessively nerdy, I'll just say that the statistical analysis of the polls that that site does is drastically better than anything else I've found on the web. I HIGHLY recommend the "best-of" posts there. In particular the "Six Types of Voters" post does an outstanding job summarizing how each candidate is likely to fare in the general election, and to what degree this is reflected in primary results.

Devon Little

Please, let's not use the clumsy phrase "over-fairness" anywhere, not even in this context. (I know you weren't using it, only referencing the original blog.)

As for the fairness of any voting system, there are thousands of researchers and hundreds of thousands of books and articles that flesh all of this out.

Fair is almost always the equivalent of proportional voting. Winner-take-all systems are almost universally delegitimated as unfair.

Remember, the national debate around the unfairness of the electoral college rests in large part on the winner-take-all format of each state's electoral votes.

If states were to use a proportional system in allocating their electoral college votes, many Americans would feel little need to abolish the college.

A number of well-meaning Republicans tried to bring about this change in California late last year, but their good intentions were thwarted by the anti-democratic factions within the California Democratic establishment.



They weren't altruistic "well-meaning" Republicans. They were Republicans interested in getting Republicans elected president. Nothing wrong with that, but they presumably got laughed out of the room, just like a Democrat pushing for the same change would get laughed out of the Texas statehouse.

It would be ridiculously dumb for California, and only California, to allocate proportionally in the general election. This takes California from the most valuable state to a state that, effectively, has about as much impact on the race as, say, Mississippi. After all, the maximum percentage swing from one election to another is less than 20 points.

Now, if ALL the states allocated proportionally, or even better, if they all gave their electors to the winner of the overall popular vote, then that would certainly be more democratic. That takes cooperation, though. Otherwise, we're basically stuck in a prisoner's dilemma. It's in the interest of overall democratic fairness for every state to go proportional, but each individual state has an incentive to go winner-take-all to maximize their impact on the election.

There was actually a movement after the 2000 election for a set of states with 270+ votes to collectively agree to certify electors in favor of the nationwide popular vote winner. Once 270+ electoral votes are on board with that plan, all that matters is the nationwide popular vote and everyone falls in line. Unfortunately, this idea faced lots of legal challenges and never made it through enough statehouses to get to the 270 threshold.

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