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States where individual voters have the most impact on the Electoral College

  • States where individual voters have the most impact on the Electoral College

    Considering the importance of the Electoral College system in American politics and elections, it's remarkable that not everyone—in fact far from everyone—understands it.

    When U.S. voters select a president, they vote for a slate of electors in each state. The winning slate casts its votes in the Electoral College to pick the president. The Electoral College has 538 electors, from all the states and the District of Columbia. The winning candidate needs a majority of 270 or more. States get the same number of electors as they have members of Congress—one for each senator and each member of the House—so they have a minimum of three. States with bigger populations have more electoral votes, but the Electoral College system does not represent each voter equally.

    If the electoral votes were divided up by population, for example, each one would represent about 607,000 people. But under the current system, an electoral vote in Wyoming represents about 193,000 people, while in California it represents more than 700,000 people. Put another way, Wyoming comprises 0.18% of the nation’s population and yet has 0.56% of the electoral votes—more than three times as many as its population size would merit.

    Stacker compiled 2020 Electoral College data from the U.S. National Archives Distribution of Electoral Votes and 2019 population data from the U.S. Census Bureau ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates to determine which states’ voters have a larger Electoral College advantage. This is determined by first calculating the percentage of current electoral votes in the state of all 538 electoral votes. Then Stacker looked at the total state population and the total voter-eligible population—18+ and a citizen—and determined each population’s share out of the total U.S. population and U.S. voter-eligible population, respectively. Finally, that share was calculated out of the 538 electoral votes and the gap was mapped between the actual electoral votes and the ones adjusted for population.

    The Electoral College system was created at America’s 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. According to historians and scholars, it was a compromise between having Congress or voters select the president. The Founding Fathers thought voters would not be well enough informed, but having Congress pick the chief executive would violate the government’s separations of power. Some also argue that it was designed to protect the interests of states practicing slavery that had smaller voting populations than states in the North.

    More than 200 years later, the system still draws controversy and criticism.

    Opponents say it lures presidential candidates to a few battleground states and does not represent the will of the people. Both George W. Bush and Donald Trump won the presidency through the Electoral College without winning the popular vote. Some Democrats also say it favors rural, Republican states.

    Defenders say that without it, presidential candidates would focus on wooing voters in highly populated states like New York, California, and Texas, and skip over nearly all the small and rural states.

    Some critics want to move to a popular vote, cutting out the middleman altogether. Another option is the National Popular Vote, in which a state’s electors cast their votes in the Electoral College for the winner of the national popular vote. The idea has the support of 15 states and the District of Columbia, but needs states accounting for 270 electoral votes to proceed.

    How electors can vote was a question answered by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Most states have so-called loyalty laws obligating electors to vote in the Electoral College for the candidate they pledged to support. The highest court this year ruled that yes, such laws are constitutional.

    After the Nov. 3 election, the number of electoral votes will be reallocated based on 2020 census results, which will be used to calculate how many seats in the House of Representatives each state gets. So the impacts of states on the Electoral College will look different the next time the nation’s voters choose their federal lawmakers and their president.

    The following list is ranked according to the gap between current Electoral College votes and electoral votes when proportional to state population. Ties are broken by the current Electoral College votes, and further ties are marked as such. Since each state has a minimum of three electoral votes regardless of size, small states tend to have an advantage, since one electoral vote represents fewer people in those states than it does in a large state such as California or Texas.

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  • #51. Texas

    - Current Electoral College votes: 38 (7.06% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 28,995,881 (8.83% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 48 (10 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 18,875,542 (8.02% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 43 (5 more than current electoral votes)

    Voters in Texas, statistically, have the least impact on the Electoral College, given that the state would have 10 more electors if the system were population-based. To illustrate, the population of Texas is roughly equal to the combined populations of Alaska, Colorado, North and South Dakota, Idaho, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. Yet those states combined have 63 electoral votes, while Texas has 38 such votes. But the state could gain three electoral votes in the next redistricting due to its significant population growth.

  • #50. California

    - Current Electoral College votes: 55 (10.22% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 39,512,223 (12.04% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 65 (10 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 26,032,160 (11.06% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 59 (4 more than current electoral votes)

    Running a close second to Texas in Electoral College representation, California would have 10 more votes if the system were based upon population. Looking ahead, California has been losing population, and it potentially could lose a seat in the House of Representatives in the pending redistricting. That would mean it loses an electoral vote as well.

  • #49. Florida

    - Current Electoral College votes: 29 (5.39% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 21,477,737 (6.54% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 35 (6 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 15,507,315 (6.59% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 35 (6 more than current electoral votes)

    The imbalance of Florida’s influence in the Electoral College could be rectified a bit in the redrawing of congressional districts based on the 2020 census. A growing population points to the possibility of the Sunshine State adding a House seat, if not two, and thus additional electoral clout as well.

  • #48. New York

    - Current Electoral College votes: 29 (5.39% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 19,453,561 (5.93% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 32 (3 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 13,810,830 (5.87% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 32 (3 more than current electoral votes)

    New York stands to lose a congressional seat and electoral vote in the redistricting. It has no law governing faithless electors who switch votes. Advocates who want to change the Electoral College system point to states like New York. They argue that not only are presidential campaign events concentrated in swing states, but states like New York are ignored altogether. They say that the existing winner-take-all system in most states of choosing electors means candidates overlook states where they are clearly ahead or behind.

  • #47. North Carolina

    - Current Electoral College votes: 15 (2.79% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 10,488,084 (3.20% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 17 (2 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 7,729,644 (3.28% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 18 (3 more than current electoral votes)

    North Carolina could make some progress after 2020 in redressing the share of its influence on the Electoral College. Its increasing population means it could gain a House seat in the pending congressional redistricting, giving it another Electoral College vote as well. North Carolina is one of the states where, by law, electors must vote for the candidate as designated at the ballot box or they must resign.

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  • #46. Arizona

    - Current Electoral College votes: 11 (2.04% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 7,278,717 (2.22% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 12 (1 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 5,137,474 (2.18% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 12 (1 more than current electoral votes)

    Arizona’s 11 electoral votes are a nice catch, and in 2020 both parties have been eyeing those votes as possibilities. The state was a Republican stronghold for years, but its population has changed with immigration and an increased number of Latinos and other people of color. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump got less than a third of the state’s Latino vote. The state is expected to gain another House seat, and electoral vote, in the next redistricting.

  • #45. Virginia

    - Current Electoral College votes: 13 (2.42% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 8,535,519 (2.60% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 14 (1 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 6,226,623 (2.64% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 14 (1 more than current electoral votes)

    In Virginia, its lower House of Delegates earlier this year passed a bill that would grant its 13 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. But the bid failed to progress in the state’s Senate. By law, Virginia’s electors must cast their votes for the candidate they pledged to support.

  • #44. New Jersey

    - Current Electoral College votes: 14 (2.60% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 8,882,190 (2.71% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 15 (1 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 6,170,130 (2.62% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 14 (0 more than current electoral votes)

    Electors in New Jersey could change their votes as there is no law governing such a move. While New Jersey would, under a population-based system, deserve another electoral vote, the state is not expected to see any changes in the redistricting. While it’s not a particularly significant way of measuring electoral influence, New Jersey reportedly has the most electoral votes per square mile of any state except Rhode Island. It was the second state to sign onto the campaign for allowing electors to throw their votes to the winner of the national popular vote, an effort that advocates say would make candidates campaign more widely rather than concentrate on a few battleground states.

  • #43. Georgia

    - Current Electoral College votes: 16 (2.97% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 10,617,423 (3.23% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 17 (1 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 7,581,837 (3.22% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 17 (1 more than current electoral votes)

    Georgia is slightly underrepresented in the Electoral College, where it would have another vote if the tallies were based on state or eligible-voter population. Due to its steadily growing population, the Southern state has added at least one electoral vote in every one of the past three reapportionments. Electors in Georgia are not required to vote for their pledged candidate. Georgia numbers among the states that do not have a faithless elector law, meaning electors face no penalty for switching their votes.

  • #42. Ohio

    - Current Electoral College votes: 18 (3.35% of all allocated votes)
    - Total state population: 11,689,100 (3.56% of total U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to state population: 19 (1 more than current electoral votes)
    - Voting-eligible population: 8,879,469 (3.77% of total eligible U.S. population)
    --- If electoral votes were proportional to voting-eligible population: 20 (2 more than current electoral votes)

    Ohio electoral voters face no penalty if they do not vote for their pledged candidate in the Electoral College. The state is expected to lose one of its 16 congressional seats in the pending redistricting, hence it would lose an electoral vote as well.

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