Despite the apparent fairness of allocating Electoral votes proportionally within the Electoral College, this method would not guarantee fairness because it would not guarantee that the winner of the popular vote would become President. Under a proportional system it would still be very possible for a candidate to win the popular vote only to lose the Presidency in the Electoral College. For a number of reasons which will be enumerated below, the fairness and value of proportional voting is an illusion.
The Fraction Dilemma: Under a proportional system, there is the potential that two candidates would muster about half of the popular vote in a state that has an odd number of electors. Let’s say for example that a state had three electors (and many do). Under the proportional method of allocating Electoral votes where the two top candidates receive about 50% of the votes each (plus or minus), one elector would vote for the Republican nominee, a second elector would vote for the Democratic nominee. We would then be confronted with what to do with the third and final elector. Which candidate would the third elector vote for? Short of a “Judgment of Solomon Solution,” there is no fair method of allocating this third vote, and it is entirely possible that the winner in the Electoral College could be outvoted in the popular vote by the other candidate. Due to the fraction dilemma, many voters will be marginalized, “no matter how you slice it.”
The Third-Party Squeeze: Under a proportional system, many third-party candidates, as well as Independent candidates will be “squeezed out” of the process, and those who voted for these candidates will be totally marginalized (eradicated) in the Electoral College. Again, for the sake of simplicity, let’s take the example of a state that has three electoral votes wherein the two major party candidates receive in the neighborhood of half the popular vote each. What happens to the third-party or Independent candidate(s) that receives 5% of the popular vote in that state, or 4% or 3% or 2% or even 1% or less? Again, in this example it would be easy to allocate one electoral vote to the Republican candidate and one electoral vote to the Democratic candidate. But what do we do with the third electoral vote? No matter how you slice it you will be accused of “fuzzy math” by every candidate that doesn’t receive this third, final, and perhaps very important electoral vote. Again, and more importantly, this “allocation fuzziness” will not only end up being unfair to some candidate(s), but will not ensure that the winner of the national popular vote will be pronounced President of the United States within the Electoral College.
Electoral Votes Come in Different Sizes: Unfortunately, not all electors reflect that same number of voters in their respective states. In Wyoming, the nations smallest state, there are three electors in a state with a population of about 568,000. Each Elector therefore represents approximately 190,000 residents. In sharp contrast, California, the nation’s largest populated state, is allotted 55 electors to represent its 38 million inhabitants. Each California elector therefore represents approximately 690,000 residents. Therefore, despite the fact that electors in Wyoming represent far fewer voters than electors in California, the electors in Wyoming have just as much clout in the Electoral College as individual electors from the state of California. Given this rather wide state-based variation in electoral representation, under the proportional voting method there would be no guarantee that the winner of the national popular vote would be pronounced President of the United States within the Electoral College. Furthermore, because electors in each state represent different numbers of Americans, many voters will not be fully represented in the Electoral College. Bottom-line: Every vote would not be equal.
Rate of Growth versus Rate of Decrease: Another problem with the proportional voting method is the fact that a state’s Electoral College electors are re-allocated only every ten years based on the national census. Therefore states that are declining quickly in population between the ten-year census interval would maintain their same electoral strength in the Electoral College despite the fact that each electoral vote would now represents far fewer voters. The voters in these declining states would be overrepresented in the Electoral College. The opposite effect would occur in rapidly growing states, as electors from these states would represent far more voters than the number of electors the state has been allotted from the most recent national census. The voters in these states would be underrepresented in the Electoral College.
Voting Turnout Would Matter: Those states with higher voter turnouts would be underrepresented in the Electoral College because despite the high percentage of actual voters, no additional electors would be provided to reflect these additional voters. At the same time, states with lower voter turnouts would be overrepresented in the Electoral College because despite the lower voter turnout, the state would still be able to send the same number of electors to the Electoral College to cast votes.
Perhaps the biggest impediment to the adoption of a Proportional voting method is the fact that the first few states to try this may lose significant clout in the Electoral College, especially if these states are battleground states. Candidates looking for gold (all the electors in a state under a winner-take-all method) will quickly come to the realization that the best that they can do in a proportional voting state is to win over just one or two electors. This would not be much incentive for campaigning in that state, and thus would not be much incentive for a state to switch from a winner-take-all system to a proportional voting system.
While at first glance a proportional voting system seems like a great idea that would result in fairness, in the end it would neither be great nor result in fairness. The apparent value of proportional voting in the Electoral College is a mere illusion. However, as we have recently seen, this method would not guarantee that the will of the American people would prevail. In the 2000 Presidential election, under a proportional allocation scheme employed throughout the country, the election would have been tied at 269 Electoral votes for both major candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore. The election would have then been thrown into the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, resulting in a political solution rather than a solution reflecting the will of the American people. In the case at hand, the Republican-controlled House would have given the Presidency to the Republican nominee George W. Bush, despite the fact that Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote by 537,179 votes.
In the end, there is still only one system that can reflect the will of the American people in the Electoral College and that is the method proposed by the National Popular Vote Plan. That Plan “guarantees” that the winner of the popular vote actually wins the Presidential election. Perhaps more importantly, under the method proposed by the National Popular Vote Plan, every vote will be equal, and every vote will count. This is not true under a proportional voting system and this is also not true under the winner-take-all system which we are presently living with.