Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Amendment 36 in Colorado

One of the more interesting state ballot initiatives yesterday was Colorado's Amendment 36, which would have split the state's 9 votes in the electoral college based on the state's popular vote. The amendment failed pretty dramatically (almost 2-to-1), as reported in the Denver Post. Most analysts figured that the current configuration of voters in the state would generate 5 to 4 splits on a reliable basis. This, in turn, would take Colorado off the political radar screen, first in the Presidential election and second in the state's Congressional delegation's clout with the White House.

Colorado is a medium-sized state that is currently receiving attention in the electoral college. Smaller states would probably do the math the same way, even if they are more safely in one party's camp or the other. Would Wyoming or Vermont receive more attention nationally by adopting such an allocation rule? Probably not--they could go 2-to-1 rather than 3-to-0. Larger states currently receiving attention, like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, would also not benefit from a switch.

But what about California, Texas, New York, and Illinois--all of which went by 10 or more percentage points to one candidate or the other? In Texas or New York, for example, an electoral vote would be awarded for roughly every 3 percentage points of the popular vote. With advanced polling information, how much of the state would really be in play enough to attract national attention during a given campaign? Maybe 2-5 electoral votes in each election. Not all that much to gain in terms of national attention, but certainly it would have made as much sense for California to get the same attention that, say, New Hampshire did this time around.

What the electoral college does is to reward states that are closely divided with national attention, in proportion to the size of the state and the closeness of the race. If those divisions happen to mirror the divisions in the nation as a whole, then that's probably not such a bad way to carve up the Presidential race. If California switched, it would get more attention immediately, but it would lose the opportunity to get much more attention in some future year when it is more closely divided in its popular vote.

Bottom line: I don't expect too many more of these ballot initiatives to appear, interesting as they are.

1 comment:

John Samples said...

The U.S. Constitution gives the power to allocate electors to the state legislatures. These institutions seek to maximize partisan benefits not a state's influence over presidential elections. The only time a state legislature will choose proportional allocation of electors over the winner take all system is when one party dominates the state legislature but nonetheless expects that party's presidential candidate to lose the state well into the future. Since partisan domination of a state legislature is highly correlated with a party dominating the state legislature, we should not be surprised that 48 states use the winner-take-all allocation rule.