Flawed Alternatives to the National Popular Vote Plan for Electoral Reform

by Neal Suidan // Published April 23, 2010
US election map by congressional district

While the National Popular Vote plan is the reform option with the most national attention and momentum, there are other options that have been presented for reform, most notably proportional allocation of electors (see a bill this year in Alabama) and congressional district allocation (see a bill this year in Washington State).

Under the proportional allocation method, states would award their electoral votes by vote share of the state to the nearest whole electoral vote. For example, if a state has 10 electoral votes and one candidate wins 60 percent while the other wins 40, the former will receive 6 votes and the latter will receive 4. While FairVote backs proportional representation for legislative elections and for allocation of convention delegates in presidential primaries, it's highly problematic when states try to use it to allocate electoral votes.

The first problem with this system is that the vote rarely would be as prettily divided as the aforementioned example, and the resulting rounding off of electoral votes would marginalize a significant number of votes. Many states would also not have any electoral votes realistically in play. Again, many voters would be absolutely ignored.

The second problem is that states do not have the same number of populous votes per electoral vote. For instance, Wyoming residents are worth an electoral vote for every 177,556 residents, whereas Texas residents are worth an electoral vote for every 715,449 residents. This system does nothing to correct this gross inequality of influence.  At the national level, this allocation is hardly proportional, so the national popular vote winner could still lose.

The congressional district allocation method is even more flawed. Already in place in Maine and Nebraska (living proof that states have the power to determine how they allocate their electoral votes), this approach awards an electoral vote to the winner of the popular vote of each congressional district and the additional two electoral votes to the statewide winner. This, too, has significant problems, especially if done on a national scale.

First, the district method would replace swing state influence with swing district influence. Candidates would only visit the small percentage of districts that have a chance to switch each year and ignore the rest of the country. In the very close 2000 election, only 12.6 percent (55 of 435) of congressional districts were within a four percent margin between candidates. Most small states would be absolutely ignored, as most small states and their congressional districts lean heavily toward one party. This would make presidential elections even more specialized and targeted.

Second, this method would give a clear partisan advantage to one side. Currently, congressional districts are much more concentrated for Democrats than they are for Republicans. In 1968, Nixon won 52.9 percent of congressional districts with 43.4 percent of the national vote while Humphrey won 36.2 percent of congressional districts with 42.7 percent of the national vote. In 2000, George Bush would have won 53.5 percent of the electoral votes under this method while losing the national popular vote. We don’t want to gerrymander presidential elections to help one party; we want the candidate with the most votes to win.
For more statistics and details on the flaws of these two reforms, see our Fuzzy Math report.

Presidential elections need fixing and, under our Constitution, states are supposed to do it. They now have a roadmap with the National Popular Vote plan. This is the only method out there that makes every vote equal, guarantees election of the candidate with the most votes and requires candidates to reflect the needs of all Americans and to campaign in all corners of the country.