The Magazine

Whose Vote Counts Most?

For maximum clout in the presidential election, move to Virginia.

Oct 29, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 07 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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The math of such statistical analyses is complicated and much disputed, but at the root lies the fairly simple fact that when a state with a large population is closely contested, it can multiply its voters’ electoral power: up to 3.312 times in a random election, Banzhaf claimed.

This electoral power lives in the voting gap​—​the number of decisive voters​—​between the candidates. If one candidate gains 3 million votes in a state, while the other candidate receives only 2 million, then the race could be said to boil down to the one million who made a difference.

So, for example, the District of Columbia ought to be at the top
of Electoral College power per voter. But given the tightness of the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama nationally, the District actually comes in dead last in power: likely to produce this year’s least consequential votes. With Obama favored by over 90 percent of its voters, Washington commands only 14.04 Electoral College votes per million
decisive voters. Utah at 14.46 electors per million deciding votes, New York at 14.57, and Oklahoma at 16.32 are similarly low.

Compare that with Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio, all at over a hundred electors per million decisive voters. And then the big four: Nevada at 399.12, Colorado at 562.47, New Hampshire at 836.06, and, overwhelmingly, Virginia at 932.85. In terms of producing an Electoral College vote, given the current state of the polls, a vote in Arlington, Virginia, is 66 times more valuable than a vote across the river in Washington, D.C.

Right in the middle, at 38.79 Electoral College votes per million poll-gap voters, lies Maine. Which is where it should be, one supposes: As I said, the Electoral College matches surprisingly well our commonsense understanding of the nation.

Our commonsense understanding of voting, for that matter. Little states concentrate their ballots enormously but end up with low influence on the election. Large states dilute their ballots but generally determine the outcome. States dominated by a single candidate tend to diminish the worth of their individual votes, while battleground states tend to magnify their votes. And the Electoral College​—​our strangely still-surviving 18th-century experiment in federalism​—​works to smooth the whole thing out.

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of The Christmas Plains.


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