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Making the electoral system fairer

The way we vote for president is a subtle disaster for 10 million Americans, more or less, who vote in states dominated by one party or the other. The disaster is for all these voters, of both parties. Not one of their votes can make any appreciable difference in the expected final, national result. The candidates know this. The favored candidate, for example, knows to the vote how many electoral votes the state has, and, to a moral certainty, that he will get every one of them. Since no individual voter in that state has anything more to offer him, he, in return, may offer nothing more to the voter.

This plight of dominant-party-state voters is the principal injustice of our voting system. It can be righted by a small change that has no pernicious side effects.

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The change is this: Give states electoral votes in proportion to their total popular vote, not in proportion to their number of congressmen, as the present system does. The leading candidate would then be forced to campaign to assure a large turnout, or risk having his victory deflated.

The minority party opposition would enhance the favorite's national chances by voting for their own candidate. Certainly, they would never do this for a hostile candidate. They might, however, give such tacit, indirect support to an acceptable candidate that offers them the respect and concessions due to a loyal , voting opposition. All voters in these states, in fact, would have vastly increased national impact.

Doubtless voter turnouts would increase as dominant-party-state voters exercised real national voting power for the first time. Recently, the impact would have been greatest on such diverse states as Utah and South Carolina, Mississippi and Massachusetts. Voters in other, close states would keep precisely the same high voting power they enjoy now.

At one time, the select panel of the American Bar Association and many in Congress believed that our system could be perfected by simply electing the candidate with the most raw popular votes nationally. That, however, would destroy the two-party system and expose small- and close-state voters to potentially disastrous candidate strategies. By continuing to vote by states, we avoid those disasters of raw voting.

Ultimately, simple systems like our present one can solve only two kinds of problems: large vs. small state, and close vs. dominant-party state. Our present system, when modified as proposed above, solves both problems as well as any possible simple system can. Raw voting solves neither. It magnifies large- and dominant-party-state votes to the ruin of the others.

The evidence that our present system has solved the large vs. small state problem is this: Winning candidates have always (except in 1888) won a plurality of the raw popular vote. (This suggests that the system is fair to the large states.) They have also always (except narrowly in 1960 and 1976) carried at least half of all the states, most of which are small. (This suggests that the present system is fair to the small states.)

Further, the senatorial votes (two in the electoral college for each state) have been decisive only in 1916, the closest election in history in the electoral vote. (This suggests that the senatorial votes have not distorted our elections - that winning candidates distribute their electoral support broadly and fairly.) The senatorial electoral votes have done their job extremely well, and ought to be kept.

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Two senatorial votes now correspond to 400,000 popular votes (1980). That is, 2 is the same fraction of all the congressional electoral votes (436) as 400,000 is of the total (1980) popular vote, 86.5 million. Therefore, under the Maximum Voting Power modification (MVP) proposed above, each state would receive, as electoral votes, its total actual popular vote plus 400,000. If its voters cast 2,000,001 votes, its winner would receive (nationally) 2,000,001 plus 400,000 equals 2,400,001 electoral votes. This small change keeps the best of our system , but ends, finally, an injustice to 10 million or more Americans.