Electoral College FAQs
I just fielded a phone call from a man who was waiting to pick up his grandson from college to vote for the first time. The grandson, the man said, had a lot of questions about the Electoral College that he didn't have the answers to. He found some of them in the handy-dandy chart on page 11 of today's Sun, but still had a few more. He asked that I post the answers on the web just in case anyone else is curious.
1. How do they decide how many electoral votes each state gets?
The electoral votes are apportioned based on a state's representation in Congress -- one for each member of the House and one for each Senator. So, Maryland, with eight congressmen, gets 10 electoral votes.
That means the votes are roughly apportioned based on population, though some quirks distort the system a bit. Each state has at least one member of the House and two Senators, so the minimum for any state to have is three electoral votes. A semi-exception to the rule is Washington D.C., which has no senators and one non-voting member of the House but gets three electoral votes anyway.
2. How many people are represented by one elector?
Because small states have a disproportionate influence in the electoral college (the result of the two votes for senators and the minimum of one member of the House) the number of people per elector varies widely. The New York Times printed an interesting op-ed on the topic over the weekend, including a map showing exactly how much a vote is worth in each state. In Montana, for example, one electoral vote corresponds to about 135,000 people, but an electoral vote from Florida accounts for about 480,000 people. Not quite one man, one vote.
3. What happens if there's a tie?
In a further bit of genius in the system, there are 538 electoral votes, so a tie is possible. In that case, the decision goes to the House of Representatives. But it's not a straight vote of the House -- each state delegation gets a vote. So, theoretically, the states with even numbers of electors could also deadlock, leading to what would no doubt be an ugly fight. In another odd quirk, the Senate gets to choose the vice president, so, theoretically, you could wind up with a president and vice president of different parties.