Proof of the Electoral College’s Extreme Vulnerability; How Russians Or Others Could Easily Determine The Next President
Electoral College's Extreme Vulnerability
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 21, 2020) - In 1964 a young law student developed a new mathematics which demonstrated - contrary to conventional wisdom - that it was voters in the most populous states who had the most voting power in presidential elections; calculation which led in 1970 to an almost-successful (but ultimately filibustered to death) effort to replace the Electoral College with a direct presidential election to assure that every American had the same voting power.
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Now a young professor of mathematics has taken voting power calculations a step further, showing that the Electoral College, combined with the winner-take-all rule in virtually all the states, means that the outcome of the presidential election can easily be changed by altering the vote counts by a tiny percentage in only a few places .
As he explains, "this [Electoral College] system is built to virtually ensure narrow victories, making it very susceptible to efforts to change either voters' minds or the records of their choices."
In 2000, a change of fewer than 300 votes in one state, Florida, would have changed the outcome of the presidential race, and similar narrow results occurred in almost one-third of our presidential elections.
That tends to support the thesis of Professor Steven Heilman of USC - which he demonstrates with a mathematical analysis - that "the Electoral College system is four times more vulnerable to manipulation that a national popular vote."
The Banzhaf Index of Voting Power
Public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who while in law school developed that "Banzhaf Index of Voting Power" which led to weighted voting being ruled unconstitutional, and almost led to a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College, explains why Heilman's analysis is pointing in the right direction.
Banzhaf's calculation of theoretical "voting power," the definition used by courts following the Supreme Court's historic "one man, oven vote" ruling, was based entirely on the population of each voting district.
Thus, according to the Supreme Court, if one voting district had 200,000 residents (or voters), and another had only 100,000, those in the more populous district had, by definition, far less voting power, based solely on the population.
But this form of analysis, because it was based upon definitions of voting power from court rulings, did not take into account factors such as the relative strength of the two parties.
For example, if the less populous 100,000-person district was heavily Republican, a resident inclined towards a Democratic candidate would have no actual voting power (i.e., the possibility of changing the outcome) to affect the outcome which was pre-ordained to be Republican.
One Man, One Vote
Similarly a Republican voter in this less populous district would likewise have no actual voting power - although he had far more theoretical voting power under the "one man, one vote" ruling - because his one additional Republican vote would have virtually no chance of ever changing the outcome in the real wold.
As a logical result, savvy presidential candidates would spend little money or other resources trying to appeal to voters in the more populous states if all other factors were equal - because its residents have less theoretical voting power - since changing a small percentage of the votes would not change the outcome of the presidential election.
Heilman's mathematical analysis goes a step further in the theoretical analysis, looking at what happens if there is small [0.1%] chance that any vote can be changed.
He begins by noting that at least 18 of the 58 U.S. presidential elections held between 1788 and 2016 were very close because only a tiny percentage change of votes in a few states would have altered the electoral vote outcome. For example:
- in 1844, the outcome would have changed if only 2,554 New Yorkers - 0.09% of the national total - had voted differently
- in 1875, Hayes lost the popular vote to Tilden by 250,000 votes, but won the Electoral College by only one vote; but if fewer than 450 votes from South Carolina (0.01% of the national votes) had changed, the electoral vote would have flipped
- Obama won by nearly 10 million popular votes in 2008, but he would have lost if a total of only 570,000 votes in 7 states were changed
- the surprising (to many) presidential election of 2016
The Chances Of A Successful Interference
Then, based upon the existing Electoral College and the current number of electors from each state, plus probability tools such as the Central Limit Theorem, Heilman concludes that in a 2-person presidential race, "the chances of a successful interference rise to over 11% - if each state is assumed to be of equal size. By adjusting the states' sizes to reflect the real number of voters in U.S. states, the chance of interference is still over 8%, four times the chance for a majority vote. . . . The Electoral College is over four times more susceptible to vote changes than the popular vote."
Banzhaf suggests that an analysis based upon actual voting power in a realistic 2020 presidential election, rather than a theoretical one based solely on states' populations, would show that the chances for interference are quite different.
That's because virtually all experts would agree that most states are not truly "competitive" or "swing states," and that so many are so "safe" for one or the other party that a small change in the number or percentage of votes cast in such states would be very unlikely to affect how its electoral votes would be cast.
Thus, even if we take the states which most experts would probably agree are "perennial" "swing" or "battleground" states - e.g., Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin - and add a few which might be seen as "competitive" in a particular presidential race (e.g., Texas?), a more realistic analysis would exclude the great majority of states; those which are generally regarded as "safe" for one party or the other, neither swing states nor competitive.
So Banzhaf's calculations - which showed that voters in the most populous states had the most voting power under the Electoral College by over a 3-1 ratio - came very close to persuading Congress to pass a bill to replace the Electoral College with the direct election of the president.
The same disparities of voting power by residents of different states is still true today, with citizens in many states having far more voting power than the citizens with the least: e.g., CA = 340%, TX = 250%, FL = 220%, NY = 220%.
Whether, at this time, when electronic and other forms of interference with presidential election seems all too easy, Heilman's work, or some additional work showing that the chances of interference are different if we exclude from the analysis all of the clearly "safe" states, will likewise persuade Congress to act remains to be seen, says Banzhaf.