Your state’s voting power in the electoral college.
With the recent 2020 election in the United States coming to a close (or should I say closed?), the arguments about the electoral college are flaring up again. Every four years, citizens in dense population areas argue in favor of either changing or abolishing the electoral college system, citing that their votes are being discounted relative to more rural areas.
What really is your voting power in different states? I made a little Flask application that you can find hosted on Heroku here:
It lets you explore what your vote is really worth based on population data from the 2010 census. I plan to discuss the technology (Flask and some web design) behind creating the app in another post. In this article, I’ll discuss how I measured your state’s voting power, and the stunning power of a handful of small states:
A vote in Wyoming is worth 3.6x as much as a vote in California.
For any given population of the states, the app ultimately computes the vote fraction defined as:
The first fraction here is the state’s share of the electoral college votes:
If there were no electoral college, we can view this as if each person could vote in the electoral college:
and the vote fraction would be unity for every state:
Therefore, the voting fraction measures how much more or less your vote is worth than if the election were decided by popular vote.
In the electoral college system, each state has different vote fractions. With the 2010 census populations, California has the lowest fraction: 0.84809, while Wyoming has the highest fraction: 3.03964. This means that every vote cast in California is worth c.a. 0.27 the vote of a voter in Wyoming, or equivalently every voter in Wyoming has the power of 3.58 Californians in deciding the U.S. presidential race.
In the application, you can also shift the populations from one state to another to explore how the vote fraction changes. For example, as the c.a. 35 million people in California are redistributed to the other states, the number of house representatives decreases, such that the electoral college votes decreases, such that the vote fraction grows — first to unity, and then beyond.
An important part of the puzzle is how to determine how many electoral votes each state receives based on it’s population. Since it’s a little more involved, I’ll save it for another article — or you can read more about it on the app’s About page.
The power of rural or otherwise sparsely populated states is quite striking:
I don’t want to make a statement on electoral college: yes or no. This app is just about exploring the way the current system works.
I was surprised by:
Finally, I should point a small caveat: the application here uses the 2010 census data, in which the population of the US is ~309 million people. Between 2010 and 2020, the total population has grown, and also the distribution of the people across states has changed. However, since the current number of representatives in the House is still based on the 2010 census data (and will be until 2023), I chose to only use this here.
You can find the source code for this project (and contribute) on GitHub here.