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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 23 August 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Guest Columnist Rick Brown -
It's the Electoral College, Stupid!

Not being a sports fan, I have little clue what the term "fantasy football" means, but if it is what I think it is, then it must be something like what I concocted below. Lots of fussing around with arcane figures, the results of which probably resemble reality as much as what happens inside the head of your average six-pack quarterback approximates the real NFL. But whatever. As they say, it's only a game.

The presidential race is not just a horse race, of course, it's also a numbers racket, and it was a glance at a list of such numbers in a recent special section of the New York Times devoted to the Electoral College, under a huge headline "Could It Happen Again?", that brought me to the startling conclusion that 538 is an even number!

Not to argue that this is a huge breakthrough in mathematical theory, only that it makes one wonder how close we could be to having a dead-heat in the horse race in 2004. So I started diddling around to find out.

First, just to remind anyone who may have forgotten about what happened in 2000, George Bush needed one-half of the 538 electors, plus one, to win; he got plus two, or 271. (Leaving the Supreme Court issue out of the discussion, of course.)

By the way, that should have left Al Gore with 267, but in fact, Barbara Lett-Simmons, a 73-year-old elector from the District of Columbia, turned in a blank ballot to protest DC's not having any votes in Congress.

But the year 2000 was also a census year, which means that since then, states gained or lost electors according to population shifts. So I asked myself, what if, in 2004, Bush were to win the same states as he did last time, and Kerry were to take the same states that Gore took in 2000?

It seems that Bush would have triumphed, with 278 electors to Kerry's 259. (In short, Bush was favored in states that had small but growing populations.)

And again, just for the fun of it, I wondered what it would take for a tie, which would throw the whole contest into the House of Representatives.

As it turns out, if just one state, Colorado, which was not too far from 50-50 in 2000, actually took its present nine votes from Bush and gave them to Kerry, it would give Bush 269 to Kerry's 268. It would then hopefully be a simple matter to persuade all three of the DC electors to play along and cast all of their votes this time, bringing Kerry and Bush even at 269 votes each.

What happens then? It goes to a vote in the House of Representatives, in which each state has one vote. And how would that go? There's no guarantee that each state would follow their original votes, but if they did, Bush would win, 30-21. (This tally assumes DC has a vote in the House. I forget whether or not they do, but it wouldn't change the outcome if they didn't.)

(With the exception, of course, of Colorado -- and, of course, my having that stray DC elector actually cast his/her vote this time -- all of the above assumes that this year's Democratic candidate still gets the majority of the popular vote. In other words, even if there were a tie in the Electoral College in this fantasy race, the Constitution once again will allow the people to be overruled. This whole electoral system, including that House of Representatives chaser, seems to favor the candidate who is liked by the less populous states. I suppose we really should get around to fixing that problem someday.)

But before we end this, let me lead this back to the real world, in which things are apparently happening that might lift the spirits of the "Anyone But Bush" crowd, and which brings me back to my original premise: "It's the Electoral College, Stupid!"

With all of these neck-and-neck polls we hear about every weekend, we tend to forget, as we do every presidential election year, that all these polls about the popular vote don't really mean that much in a close popular race; what really matters is what's happening in the states.

And yes, even though pundit Charlie Cook -- reputedly as good at this political prediction stuff as anyone can be -- is now saying that Kerry is way ahead, I myself imagine it's still too early to nail it all down.

Still, go look at, a website I just found, that allows you to roll your mouse over a map of the country and get the most recent poll results from each state. It's really neat! You should bookmark it, because it changes from day to day.

When I went there just now, they had Kerry with 286 electoral votes to Bush's 233, which does not include the two states shown to be "Exactly Tied," Wisconsin and Colorado. (See what I'm telling you? This whole race may swing on Colorado!) Of course, some of the states are listed as "Weak" or "Barely" for a certain candidate, so things could change at any time, especially during whatever bounce, if any, happens after the upcoming GOP convention in New York.

By the way, I tried to imagine a tie scenario on that map, but I couldn't do it. Still, this is not to say that couldn't change over the next two months.

- Rick Brown

Posted by Alan at 13:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 August 2004 19:05 PDT home

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