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A bipartisan solution to fix the electoral college

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The Electoral College has steadfastly withstood fierce opposition: over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to abolish or reform the Electoral College, a compact of states was formed to bypass it, and recent polls show that more than half of Americans oppose it. Countless presidents and senators have even called for its demise, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at a CNN town hall last week.

There is widespread agreement that the Electoral College is severely flawed; then why is it so resilient?

{mosads}The main reason that the Electoral College has resisted reform is simply because most suggestions have been biased towards one party. The most popular proposal by far is to replace the Electoral College by direct election. This plan is widely accepted to be biased towards Democrats: if the votes had been tallied using the popular vote, the Democratic candidate would have been elected in 2000 and 2016. It is no wonder that Republican legislators oppose it.

For a solution to be viable, it must be bipartisan. And as such, it can only address the characteristics that both parties agree are problematic.

Fortunately, the main problem with the Electoral College is indeed a bipartisan one: The battleground for the U.S. presidency is concentrated in roughly 12 states. These are the states that do not lean strongly Democrat or Republican, and they receive millions in presidential campaign spending, enjoy a higher voter engagement, and even have foreign policy decisions made for their benefit. Meanwhile, the remaining 38 states see none of these advantages and are largely ignored by presidential candidates.

So, what’s a safe, non-competitive state to do?

My research points to a promising solution to address the broken Electoral College. The Competitive Plan, a variant of the Proportional Plan, would allocate electoral votes in proportion to a state’s popular vote, making all states attractive in the eyes of the candidates.

How would this work? Take a state with four electors. If 75 percent vote for the Republican candidate and 25 percent for the Democratic candidate, the Competitive Plan would allocate three electoral votes to the Republican candidate and one to the Democratic candidate. In cases where the numbers don’t split up evenly, the Competitive Plan would use an analytical formula to distribute electoral votes in a way that still reflects the popular sentiment.

Under the Competitive Plan, all states would matter. Even the smallest states would have at least one vote up for grabs in each election, and hence would benefit from increased revenue and political influence. But is this plan bipartisan?

An analysis of a century’s worth of the presidential elections demonstrates that the Competitive Plan does not offer either party a partisan advantage. In contrast to other proposed Electoral College reforms, the Competitive Plan ensures identical results to all 30 presidential elections since 1900.

Despite the clear benefits of the Competitive Plan, nationwide adoption of this measure would be logistically challenging. To be sure, a constitutional amendment is improbable, getting all of the states to change at the same time is clearly infeasible, and no state would want to change first, as it would essentially be giving away votes to the other party. 

What would happen then if two comparable states like Hawaii and South Dakota, for example, transition to the Competitive Plan together?

Not only will this ensure the same result as every presidential election since 1900, it would hardly alter any of the margins of victory! An algorithm was developed to find pairs of states that “cancel each other out”, like blue Hawaii and red South Dakota do. The algorithm also identifies a good transition order for these pairs.

If the states transition according to the suggested order, at no point in this process would it have had any partisan effect. Compounded with the financial and political advantages gained by transitioning, safe states have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Many states adopted a winner-take all method in the 1820s to increase their political standing. Ironically, this is the same reason that 200 years later they are often snubbed by presidential hopefuls.

The Competitive Plan offers a bipartisan alternative that is easy to implement and finally equitable. It’s time to put democracy back in the hands of all Americans.

Shai Vardi is an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Tags Connecticut Electoral College Elizabeth Warren popular vote

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