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Biden wins -- but by a smaller margin -- Is this a better way to do it?

Uploaded: Nov 18, 2020
Last week I wrote about the Electoral College, acknowledging that while it caused problems, and twice in recent years elected candidates whose vote totals were lower than their presidential opponents, I suggested that rather than discarding it which would take years since it's embedded in the Constitution, a simpler, quicker way for improvement would be to have a "proportional" counting system in each state. For example, if 70 percent of New York presidential votes went to the Dems and 30 percent to the GOP, then 70 percent of the electors would be Dems and 30 percent Republicans.

This week, a wonderful volunteer and also a friend, Eleanor Willemsen, a Palo Alto resident, did an analysis of how proportional voting would have worked in the 2020 election. I was more than surprised at the results. Eleanor, who holds a Ph.D., is professor emerita of psychology at Santa Clara University.

The NYT had wonderful chart in its special election supplement after the election that showed the number of electors in each state and how many votes each residential candidate received.

The result: Biden won, but by a smaller margin!

Under the "winner take all" system most states now use, the result has been 306 electors for Biden, 231 for Trump. Under the proportional system, Biden gets 277 and Trump receives 261, as calculated by Eleanor.

The advantage in using the proportional system is that every vote counts, even if you are a member of a minority party in your state (California is overwhelming a Democratic state.)

The disadvantage is that despite a 5 million plurality, that high count doesn't show up much in picking electors.

It would be nice to see how the 2016 election turned out if proportional voting were used. But anyway, this gives us some data, and a bit of thinking and analyzing on how best to improve the Electoral College.

Unfortunately, I cannot import the chart. It listed each state and D.C. under six categories. The results for California were as follows: # of electoral votes, 55; proportion of votes cast for
Biden, .640; for Trump, .339; electors for Biden, 36, and for Trump, 19.

Thank you so much, Eleanor!
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Diana Diamond, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 18, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Again, Eleanor, thanks for all you did. I must add that as a winner-take-all state, Biden got all 55 electors. Proportionately, he only got 36. But when we take all states into consideration, then Biden still wins the election and gets more votes in some red states than under the winner-take-all system.


Posted by Anneke, a resident of Professorville,
on Nov 18, 2020 at 1:50 pm

Anneke is a registered user.


I would love to see Eleanor's full analysis. Is there any possibility she could do the same analysis for 2016?

I strongly believe all the ugliness of this year's election can be traced back to certain states having laws that counting mail-in ballots would start after election day, even if these mail-in ballots would have arrived before election day.

Donald Trump clearly knew that more Democrats than Republicans were going to vote by mail, and hence tried to claim that mail-in ballots were invalid. If these specific states had started to count the mail-in ballots right away, there would not have been such a black and white situation. On Wednesday-evening Trump received the most votes (for in-person voting) and claimed a win, only to have the situation completely turn around in favor of Joe Biden on Thursday (because of the mail-in ballots.)

Had all the incoming votes been counted as they came in, it would have been a much more balanced approach with still the same outcome, but most likely with less bitterness.

In some ways I actually think that Trump's resistance and false claims are showing everyone in the world who and what he is in reality....... making Joe Biden an even stronger President-Elect.

Posted by Joseph, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Nov 18, 2020 at 4:45 pm

Joseph is a registered user.

I appreciate Eleanor for running the numbers if the winner take all rule is gotten rid of. Unfortunately, the proportionate counting method, as used in Maine, assigns the two senate seat votes to the winner of the overall state and then assigns the house votes according to the presidential winner within each congressional district.

It would be interesting to see how the electoral college vote would have turned out using Maine's formula. In any case I think most states would insist that the two senate votes go to the statewide vote winner.

Posted by Citizen PA, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 19, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Citizen PA is a registered user.

I think we have to get rid of the Electoral College, and the only way this will happen is also the way we fix our country -- the only party that is concerned with honesty and solving our problems is the Democrats (rather than destroying our government from the inside and dividing us like foreign enemies as the Republicans have been doing). I think it was telling that in the runnup to the election, pretty much every Republican voter I heard gave reasons that were based on fantastical falsehoods that they wanted to believe. So much misinformation came from the WH. This is exactly the situation the electoral college was supposed to prevent, and didn't, and it appears the potus is scheming to use it to thwart democracy (instead of doing his job, as if he ever did).

Providing proportional electors doesn't solve many of the problems of the electoral college. Biden won this election by 5 million votes. This is a lot of people.

The only way to change this is for Democrats to do a better job of systematically ensuring that they do everything necessary to ensure that the results of elections represent the majority of voters, whether by countering voter suppression, or especially by ensuring their voters always turnout -- and stop being so fickle and idiots about the balance of power in Congress (I hear lots of people saying "we turned out this time, we'd better see results" when they didn't bother to ensure that Biden had a majority in the Senate.) And then there's the long game of the Supreme court, which the Republicans have been utterly unethical about, and have put in the kind of venal partisans who render the kind of ultra-ideological decisions like the once Plessy v. Ferguson that have long-reaching consequences. If you look at Scalia's record, he voted in favor of white criminal defendants like 85% of the time and AGAINST black defendants by that amount. Justice Roberts has voted again and again in favor of vote suppression measures. The court has had a conservative majority for the last 50 years, rendering decision after decision in favor of the wealthiest and against the poor and middle class, and not surprisingly, the last 50 years has been an unbroken period of the richest basically taking all the money from the poor and middle class (look up "pew research income inequality" and check out the graphs). This despite the fact that for most of that time period, Democrats have either had the WH or have had the most votes. This is not what our founders intended, and it's not in keeping with the basic tenets of representative democracy. But to fix it, those who want to fix it have to get the sustained support they need to stay in power long enough to actually do those things. (Our nation would be so much better off if people would disincentivize the Republican lying -- to me, the fact that their lying was so rewarded in this election is the biggest problem.)

Posted by GoStanford, a resident of Hoover School,
on Nov 19, 2020 at 1:06 pm

GoStanford is a registered user.

Here's the analysis for alternative vote distribution for 2016 election.
Web Link

Posted by Al Ward, a resident of another community,
on Nov 19, 2020 at 6:56 pm

Al Ward is a registered user.

My understanding is that the intention of the founding fathers was that all the electors would meet to discuss the merits of the nominees and then vote according to their conscience. But when political parties decided that they could gain political advantage by winner-take-all, that threw a monkey wrench into the works. An early president, I think it was John Adams, talked about the hazard that political parties would present to our democracy

Posted by Drew, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 19, 2020 at 11:18 pm

Drew is a registered user.

I agree with Joseph that the states would insist on the 2 "Senate" electors to be winner-take-all. However, I do *not* like the Nebraska nor Maine systems (where the "House" electors are allocated by the winner of each actual House of Representative district) because they reward gerrymandering.

Instead, I believe using proportional allocation for the House-related electors, and winner-take-all for the Senate-related electors, would address the largest set of problems with the current Electoral College without requiring amendments to the Constitution.

I like this approach because it preserves the benefit of actually winning a state (especially in the smaller ones) while ensuring that small differences in a given state don't have oversized impact on the result.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Nov 20, 2020 at 1:08 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Diana is a little under the weather, and asked me to add a comment linking to this table, which lists the electoral votes that would have been in each state if there were proportional assignment: Web Link

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Nov 21, 2020 at 9:16 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

In the State of CA San Diego is a major city with a newly elected R representative - Darryl Issa. The termed out mayor of San Diego is going to run for governor and he is a Republican. The sand is shifting and it is time to allocate the electoral votes in the proportion of total D and R votes in major elections. While the Silicon Valley / SF group may not like it they have narrowed the approval of their products and life style. Change is on the way.

Posted by Fare thee well, a resident of Fairmeadow School,
on Nov 21, 2020 at 6:38 pm

Fare thee well is a registered user.

"The sand is shifting"
"Change is on the way."

Huh? Issa being a congress-critter is hardly new. TYHis is his 2nd or 3rd district he's represented. Also: the wealthiest member of congress (he was at the time.)

What's your point?

Posted by AlexDeLarge, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 22, 2020 at 1:32 am

AlexDeLarge is a registered user.

@Resident 1 as much as I agree, I think, however, that , California is the deep of the deep blue states and change is rather unlikely. In the words of Lord Acton - "Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolute."

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Nov 22, 2020 at 5:26 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Silicon Valley and SF are a blue unit. But SOCAL is going to be a toss up. People are disgusted with the status quo. The status quo is a downward progression of total nonsense. The city of SF - where I was born - is a mess. People are not going to put up with this. Our governor is a mess. NORCAL has had it's day. And they have not done well with it.

Posted by chris, a resident of University South,
on Nov 23, 2020 at 11:18 am

chris is a registered user.

If you tinker with the electoral college rather than going to national popular vote, you may not get the results you are expecting based on analysis of prior elections because campaign strategy and voting turnout will change.

A major problem with the national popular vote is that a very close national vote would require recounts in all 50 states. Now the recounts can be isolated to one or a few states. Managing a recount in every state would present a challenge worse than the issues presented by the Electoral College.

But realistically, as long as the Republican Party exists in anything like its current form, there will be no change to the Electoral College.

Posted by Citizen PA, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 25, 2020 at 1:02 pm

Citizen PA is a registered user.

Biden currently has more votes than any candidate in history, and any winning candidate, now at more than 6 million more than his opponent. He also has a majority of votes cast, which is really rare. Turnout also hasn't been this high in some places in over 100 years. He was endorsed by weighty organizations like Scientific American and The New England Journal of Medicine that don't normally ever make political endorsements.

It's now up to those of us who voted to ensure that he has to ability to restore our nation, a well-functioning government, our democracy, and our stature in the world, by making a commitment to voting in the midterms. Republicans are much more savvy about the balance of power in Congress and tend to vote at higher rates in midterms, and to make misleading statements and schemes to suppress voters too. Democrats can pessimism themselves right out of any chance to do what they want to improve our nation. If is the balance of power in Congress that allowed Lincoln to get Emancipation, and the shifting balance of power in Congress that gave us the racist Supreme Court, ended reconstruction, and gave us Jim Crow laws. (Watch the documentary about Reconstruction with Henry Louis Gates Jr on PBS and watch for how important the balance of power in Congress is. The impacts go on for generations.)

Start getting out the vote for the Midterms NOW. It will be harder, and more important that people understand why, and important that people talk to GOP leaders to get them to remember their allegiance is to our nation. Restoring a sense of the importance of competence government and civil service to our safety and status in the first world would also really help. The fact that so many people could think that integrity and competence in leadership doesn't matter or who could be led to vote based on utterly false ideas about who the lame-duck potus is and his record/corruption, bodes ill for our future.

(I am still dumbfounded by people who would say that at least T**** did okay up until the pandemic with the economy. First of all, not really true when it comes to manufacturing, farmers, etc. Secondly, he raised taxes substantially on millions in the middle class of states he didn't think voted for him. Thirdly, how does it make sense to say he doesn't bear responsibility for what happened to the economy because of an incompetent national response to the pandemic? Other nations that had a competent national strategy, many of them like South Korea (who tried to help us) suffered few deaths and no recession.

Contrary to decades of Republicans trying to destroy our nation from the inside (which the Russians and other enemies are now trying to capitalize on), competent governance matters, and it's a big and essential part of what keeps us (and any other nation) in the first world.

No, Republicans are not going to try to fix this. But if Democrats remember to keep voting at these levels, and keeping the big picture in mind (balance of power in Congress, not having close elections, etc, although frankly, this one wasn't really that close, Biden won handily by modern standards), they can get the policies they seek. But if they don't get instant gratification and take all their marbles home (which Republican politicians have in the past schemed to get them to believe/do), then they will keep losing despite the big wins such as Obama and Biden presidencies. Healthcare reform could have gone much better if people had remembered to support Obama in the midterms.

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