The Banzhaf Power Index and Equity - Another Reason to Keep  the Electoral College

                Before the quadrennial ranting and ravings over the Electoral College get going in the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, I want to inject another newly discovered reason for keeping the Electoral College – Equity.

                In the 1960’s a lawyer/mathematician named John F. Banzhaf III asked himself the question, “What is the probability that my vote will change the outcome of an election?”  The answer is, of course, a very, very small probability.  In any normal election it is dependent on the number of people who vote.  If there are a million voters, your probability is one in a million.

                But in American Presidential elections, because of the Electoral College, all votes are not equal.  In a state like Vermont or Montana, there are only about 500,000 voters, but in a state like California, there are 22.5 million voters.  In a state like Vermont or Montana, the voters are choosing three electors, but in a state like California, the voters are choosing 53 electors.  So, if you ask yourself the question, “What is the probability that my vote will change the outcome of an election?” in an American Presidential election, the answer is not so clear.

                Yes, the Vermont or Montana voter has more power in choosing its state’s electors, but the number of electors chosen is much smaller than California’s.  So, although the small state voter has more power in choosing electors, those electors are less crucial in determining the outcome of the Presidential election.  How much less?

                Enter the Banzhaf Power Index, a complex mathematical formula beyond the scope of this article, although there is an excellent explanation by Mark Livingston, among others, in the Computer Science Department at the University of North Carolina. to the Banzhaf Power Index, based on the census data of the 1990’s, a Californian’s vote is worth about 3.3 times more than a Montanan’s vote in determining the outcome of a presidential election.

                This is a good thing, because when it comes to the United States Senate, the Montanan’s vote is worth about 45 times what a Californian’s vote is worth.  But seeing as the President and the Senate are co-equal branches of the federal government, it probably means that it is the Electoral College that preserves the fairness of the federal government.

                Although I do not know if this can be proved mathematically, logically it makes sense that the voters in the big states, who are vastly underrepresented in the Senate, should be compensated by being slightly overrepresented in the selection of the president.  The Electoral College, because of the block votes of each state, does exactly that.

                So, those people who are constantly calling for the abolition of the Electoral College are proposing a radical power shift toward the voters in the small states.  It is the Electoral College method of selecting the president that keeps the federal governmental balance of power as fair as it is.  Abolishing the Electoral College may make every vote equal in the presidential race, but without changing the Senate, it would make voters in the big states much more unequal in terms of the entire federal government.

                Then, of course, there are the state’s rights and geographical distribution arguments also in favor of the Electoral College.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf