Electoral College Math
"Gov. Scott Walker is open to having Wisconsin allocate its electoral votes based on results from each congressional district..." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 23, 2012, page 1B.
The US Constitution provides that the electoral votes for president and vice-president cast by each state equal the number of representatives and senators from that state (1), but does not require that all electors vote for the same candidate. In fact, in the early years of our republic the electors made up their own minds, and so the electors of one state would be expected to vote for various candidates. Today, two states (Nebraska and Maine) allocate their electoral votes by congressional district, with two additional votes for the candidate that carries the state. Should Wisconsin join them?
Wisconsin has backed the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1988. Meanwhile the Republicans have won five of seven elections for Governor (including the 2012 recall), one election for US Senator, and now dominate both houses of the legislature and hold five of the eight congressional seats. In 2012, President Obama won the statewide vote and three congressional districts, while ex-Gov. Mitt Romney won five districts. Had Wisconsin allocated its electoral vote in the manner of Nebraska, each candidate would have received five votes, instead of all ten going to Obama under the winner-take-all system. Under the district plan Obama's share of the electoral vote (50%) would have been much closer to his share of the popular vote (53%) than the 100% of the electoral vote he garnered under the present system. (Wisconsin Democrats do better in presidential elections than in state elections because more voters who vote only when president is on the ballot vote Democratic.) For the past 24 years the Republicans would have benefited from the congressional-district allocation in Wisconsin, but Democrats would have benefited in Republican states like Kansas and Texas.
The trouble with the congressional-district allocation is that the district lines are drawn by the majority in the state legislature to benefit their party, and the Republicans are on top right now in Wisconsin. That is part of the reason that this year Wisconsin elected a Democratic US Senator and five (out of eight) Republican congressmen. This means that gerrymandering of congressional districts would also affect the choice of the president if electoral votes were allocated by congressional district.
A more fair reform would be to apportion the electoral vote of each state according to the percentage of the vote received by each candidate, rounded to the nearest whole number of electors. (If a state had an odd number of congressmen and the presidential votes were nearly equal between two candidates, the candidate who carried the state would get one more electoral vote.) Under this system, not in use anywhere today, the electoral vote would more nearly approximate the percentages for each candidate in the national popular vote, but gerrymandering of congressional districts would not affect the outcome.
Gerald S Glazer
(1) US Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Par. 2.