Fun with the Electoral College!

If you haven’t visited, you really must.  It has an interactive election map where you can project what combinations of states are necessary for your candidate to win in November.

As the name of the website indicates, a candidate has to win 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.  Presidents have never been elected by a straight popular vote in this country.  The race for President is really not one race.  It is fifty-one races (all fifty states plus D.C.).  This way of doing it serves to protect less populated states from being overrun by the will of major population centers, which would be the case if we went to a straight popular vote election.  Al Gore received more votes than did George W. Bush in 2000, but if you look at the electoral college map, Bush had a more widespread popularity.  The fact that major population centers (mostly around the coasts) heavily supported Gore, thereby moving him ahead in the popular vote, is not a sufficient basis on which to elect a President to represent the whole country.  So I’m glad we do it the way we do it.

According to Rasmussen Reports, it is pretty safe right now to chalk up 200 electoral votes to McCain and 193 to Obama.  If you count the states that are leaning one way or the other, you end up with McCain at 247 and Obama at 259.  That leaves four states that are pure toss-ups: Colorado (9 votes), New Mexico (5 votes), Nevada (5 votes), and Virginia (13 votes). 

Now I have imagined a very interesting scenario.  What if everything plays out the way described above, and then McCain ends up winning Colorado and Virginia (as I suspect he will)?  That will put McCain at 269 electoral votes.  If Obama takes New Mexico and Nevada (which also seems quite plausible), he too will have 269 electoral votes.  We could end up with a tie in the electoral college.  In that case, the House of Representatives would decide who would be President.  It would not be the House as it is now but the “updated” House from the 2008 election.  All the projections I hear indicate that the Democrats will retain a majority in the House, so a tie would probably work to Obama’s favor.  On the other hand, would Democratic representatives from conservative states that had voted for McCain feel obligated to vote with their constituents?  I don’t know.  That would be an interesting scenario, but one I hope never comes to pass.

There is one more curveball to throw into this mix.  Both Maine and Nebraska divide their electoral votes.  Maine is a blue state, but if McCain has high popularity in the right place, he could pick off one electoral vote.  The converse is true for Obama in Nebraska.  I haven’t seen any polling on the likelihood of either one of these scenarios happening, but in a race this close, one electoral vote may make all the difference.


One Response to “Fun with the Electoral College!”

  1. jonolan Says:

    One flaw – no Democrat in the House would ever vote for McCain even if his State did. When in living memory has anyone in Congress cared about the voters once they were in office?

    9% Approval rating

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