Saturday, September 11, 2010

2012: Another Electoral College Debacle?

Come Election 2012, there is the possibility that, for the second time in twelve years, the candidate who wins the most popular votes will wind up losing as a result of the electoral college. Indeed, when current political realities and basic arithmetic are taken into consideration, that potential scenario becomes surprisingly feasible.

To understand this point, let us start with two facts:

- The chances are very strong that any states which were won by Gore in 2000, Kerry in 2004, and Obama in 2008 are automatically going to be received by the president in 2012. In this case that includes Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Washington DC, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. As of 2008, those states would have netted Obama a total of 248 electoral votes; however, once adjustments in electoral college allotments take effect (as a result of the findings of the 2010 census), the final amount will probably be 242 electoral votes.

- The chances are also very strong that any states which were won by Bush in 2000 and 2004 and McCain in 2008 are going to automatically be received by the Republican candidate (who I believe, as explained and, will be Mitt Romney) in 2012. In this case that includes Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. In 2008, those states would netted (and actually did net) McCain a total of 174 electoral votes (although one faithless electoral from Nebraska wound up casting his ballot for Obama); however, once adjustments in electoral college allotments take effect, the final amount will probably be 181 electoral votes.

Assuming that this is a sound premise, we are then left with 115 electoral votes that could hypothetically go to either candidate, consisting of the states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and New Hampshire.

The chances are that Indiana and North Carolina can both be soundly placed in the Republican column, considering that they went to Obama by infinitesimal margins in 2008 and are likely to swing back to the GOP thanks to the mobilized right-wing grassroots movement opposing him (which was not nearly as active on John McCain's behalf in 2008). Similarly, the increasing strength of the Democratic party in New Hampshire makes it likely that that state's four electoral votes can be safely placed on the Democratic side. This would bring the Republican total to 207 electoral votes and the Democratic total to 246 electoral votes, with 85 electoral votes to spare within seven remaining states - Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio.

Here's where the possibilities become especially intriguing. Let us pretend, for a moment, that the forty-two remaining states (forty-three if you count the District of Columbia, which when considering the Electoral College one really ought to do) all vote for their respective candidate's by reasonably sizable margins. What's more, let us hypothesize that each of the seven remaining states winds up picking its candidate by margins of 5% or less, which would hardly be out of the ordinary in an election year. In that situation, a candidate who wins the remaining seven swing states by tiny percentages could have a resounding victory in the electoral college but, at the same time, incur such serious popular vote deficits in the states that he or she decisively lost that this would not be reflected in the national popular vote results. In short, based solely on applying the elemental facts of arithmetic and current political life as we know them to be, it is entirely conceivable that a candidate could win the electoral vote but lose the popular vote in 2012.

For what it's worth, I highly doubt that either candidate will win all seven of the remaining states. If each state's voting trends from 2000 to 2008 and the statuses of their various gubernatorial races are taken into account, the chances are that Colorado and Florida would definitely go to Obama while Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia would go to the Republican. That would give Obama a winning total of 283 electoral votes to 255 electoral votes for his Republican opponent (who I once again believe will probably be Romney), even if he didn't receive the most popular votes. At the same time, if that identical scenario transpired, but with Obama receiving more popular votes nationally while losing the state of Florida (even if compensated by picking up some smaller states, like Iowa or Nevada or New Mexico), Romney could wind up being the beneficiary of a presidential victory sans a popular mandate. That latter situation would be especially distressing if, after John Kasich receives his expected victory over Ted Strickland in this year's Ohio gubernatorial election, Ken Blackwell or one of his cronies winds up in power, with their predictable shenanigans throwing the legitimacy of that state's election returns into doubt.

Incidentally, should any scenario like one of these come to pass, the short duration separating the two controversial elections would not be unprecedented in American history. Indeed, prior to the 2000 debacle, the last two presidential elections to end with the winner receiving fewer popular votes had also been separated by twelve years - i.e. the Hayes-Tilden contest in 1876 (in which the fact that Tilden was the legitimate winner is virtually undisputed) and the Harrison-Cleveland contest in 1888 (in which Harrison's victory was more likely due to a mathematical hiccup than any unusually acute chicanery). Even so, given the volatile atmosphere in our body politic today, it is not difficult to foresee a situation in which one candidate's "illegitimate" victory would be used by the losing side to create a veritable brouhaha. If there was ever a more compelling reason to jettison the Electoral College and replace it with a system of direct popular voting, I haven't found it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gore beat Bush in the popular vote by 500,000 votes.

In a 160,000,000-vote election, this is a statistical tie.

Sans Electoral College, every vote in the nation would have had to be have been counted and recounted, or a new election held.