Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Fix for the Electoral College - Fewer States

This year, for the second time in the last five elections, a candidate who failed to receive a majority of the popular vote will be President of the United States because of the oddity of the Electoral College.

This time, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is going to win the popular vote by some 2.5 million votes.  

We’re already hearing a lot of talk about the electoral college being an anachronism.   People who like the outcome of the election are insisting that it worked the way it was meant to, as a bulwark to protect small states from large states.  (They’re wrong, of course.  The SENATE was that bulwark.   The electoral college WAS designed to force candidates to campaign in more than one region; in other words, to compromise with slavery.  But primarily, it was designed to put a handful of “grown-ups” between a mob-endorsed demagogue and the White House.)

But face facts, the electoral college isn’t going away anytime soon.   It would require an amendment to the constitution; and that would require, first, for both houses of Congress to pass it by a 2/3 majority.  And, given that the 20 smallest states, which contain 10% of the American population but get 40% of our Senators, that’s never going to happen.  Let alone the idea of 38 state legislatures approving an amendment if it did ever pass Congress.

It might be almost easier to make the electoral college work better by encouraging some states to merge.   That’s not likely to happen, either, at least not in the next two years.   But most of these small states only exist thanks to their purchase or conquest by an activist federal government, and only survive thanks to a massive influx of federal money that comes from economically viable large states.

Here’s the deal:   there are somewhat more than 320 million people in America today, including some 80 million children, teens, and immigrants who are not entitled to vote but all of whom still pay taxes every time they buy a pack of gum.   Our laws apply to all of them and our elected officials represent all of them whether they can vote or not.  The U.S. House of Representatives is composed of 438 Congressmen, roughly one per every 700,000 Americans.  The U.S. Senate is composed of 100 Senators – two from each of 50 states.    That means that a state with less than 6.4 million people is over-represented in the Senate, and those with less than 3.2 million people are over-represented by 100 to 600%.

Only 30 of the 50 states have more than 3.2 million people.   Between 1790 and 1960, it was
Map of US Counties, adjusted for population.
necessary to have a minimum number of people to qualify for statehood.  Our nation is now full of states that at one time met that threshold, then failed to maintain a sustainable economy, and now survive only with massive federal subsidies, while getting an outsized vote in the federal government that continues to subsidize them.

So … let’s work our way across the country and consider what it would look like if states needed 1% of the nation’s population in order to have 2% of the nation’s power.

In northern New England, neither Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine have enough population to qualify as a state.  In fact, all three of them need to merge in order to qualify.

Rhode Island, at 1 million people, likely needs to merge with Connecticut.  Or Massachusetts, but why would they?  Rhode Island was founded by a man that the Massachusetts Colony sent off into the winter wilderness to die.

Delaware, with 900,000, needs to merge with Maryland.

At this point, I imagine Republicans are liking where this is going.   I’ve just cut 8 blue states down to four.

All of the rest of the original 13 colonies meet this standard for statehood, as do all but two other states east of the Mississippi River:   West Virginia and Mississippi.

Culturally and economically, West Virginia and Kentucky would likely elect to merge.

Geographically, it makes sense for Mississippi to merge with Alabama; but SEC football rivalries alone would scotch that deal.   Alabama doesn’t need Mississippi.  Since Mississippi is across the river from Arkansas, another state that stands to lose its status, there is considerable logic to these two states merging.

After we cross the Mississippi River, it starts to get more complicated.  In the first tier of states, Iowa as well as Arkansas is too small to qualify for statehood.  It would make sense culturally for Iowa to merge with Minnesota, but politically Iowa would resist that.  So Iowa may end up merging with Nebraska and maybe someone else.

As we move to the second tier of western states, Texas and Oklahoma are large enough to continue to be singular states.  No one above them is.   Kansas and Nebraska are large enough to make for one state; and if they agree to merge with Iowa as well, they would be a fairly populous state with more than the minimum number of House seats.

North and South Dakota wouldn’t qualify for statehood even by merging; so they either need to merge with the Kansabraskiowa consortium, or merge with Montana and at least one other mountain state.

Moving farther west, New Mexico doesn’t qualify for statehood.   A merger with Arizona makes geographical, but not cultural or political sense.   So New Mexico and Colorado should merge, even though Colorado doesn’t need a partner.

Wyoming, the least-populated state in the Union, needs to merge with multiple states.   The most likely outcome is that Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho – and possibly Alaska – become one huge but still very sparsely-populated state.  Nevada, at this point, is a borderline state that might become either part of a big Red state to the northeast, or join California as a big blue state.  But if they don’t go red in the next two years, they never will.

All of the blue Pacific Coast states are solid as they stand, although one of them needs to absorb Hawaii.

This would result in a 34-state union with 68 Senators, and still 438 Representatives, although we should probably recalibrate that number down, too.   Perhaps one representative per million residents, so each state had 2 Senators and no less than 3 representatives.

We would no longer have 20 states containing 10% of the population but controlling 40% of the Senate and a hugely disproportionate share of the electoral college.   Not likely to happen, but an interesting set of numbers to keep in mind as we figure out how to move forward.