Blogs > HNN > Electoral College Mischief

Jul 1, 2008 2:47 pm

Electoral College Mischief

Few are the pundits who consider Nebraska and Maine to be battleground states, but if the election is close and only a few states switch from their 2004 vote, these two states may well determine who becomes the 44th president of the United States.

The reason: these are the only two states that divide Electoral College votes according to congressional districts. Nebraska has five and Maine has four Electoral College votes, which means there are three congressional districts in Nebraska and two in Maine. The statewide winner gets two votes automatically, but the winner of each district gets that district's vote.

McCain should win Nebraska easily, but Omaha – the population center of the 2nd congressional district – has the state’s highest concentration of Democratic voters and Obama seems to be showing strength there. Note that Obama has a major ad buy underway blanketing 18 states, and it’s probably no coincidence that Omaha is one of his target markets. The situation flips in Maine, where Obama should carry the state and win the Portland-based 1st district handily, but he may not be as strong in the more rural 2nd district. It’s not as likely as Omaha, but it’s still in play.

So let’s run this thread a bit. Suppose the 2004 map stays stable with four exceptions: Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado flip to Obama, and New Hampshire – the state McCain likes to call his second political home – switches to the GOP. The result? An Electoral College tie. Thus Omaha, or possibly the second district in Maine, could become the kingmaker.

Other variations make this scenario possible. Consider what may happen in two of the most disgruntled Midwestern states. Michigan has voted Democratic in the last four elections, and Ohio has gone Republican in the last two elections and in seven out of the last ten, shifting blue only with Carter in 1976 and Clinton in both of his campaigns. But voter discontent is high in these two states, with the GOP very unpopular in Ohio and the once-celebrated Michigan governor a bit more wobbly with the voters these days.

So let’s say McCain snatches Michigan’s 17 electors but Obama counters with Ohio’s 20. If New Hampshire goes red but Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada (with its swelling Democratic voter rolls due to an influx of Latinos and Californians) switch to blue, McCain would win 270 to 268 – unless Omaha moves that one Nebraska vote to the Democratic column, meaning an Electoral College tie. That would throw the election to the newly-elected House of Representatives, with each state delegation getting one vote, which at this point would favor the Democrats (the Senate would then select the Vice President, with each senator getting one vote, and if the House is somehow deadlocked, the newly elected Vice President would become acting president – so if Hillary Clinton is Obama’s VP, that’s how she could become President of the United States).

These scenarios become even more bizarre if, as many project, Obama may well gain a solid popular vote victory. Remember, Bush won 13 southern states by 6 million votes in 2004, and since he won the entire country by 3 million votes, then Kerry won the 37 remaining states and DC by 3 million votes. So let’s say Obama – with higher African American and youth turnout as well as a bump in independent voter support – increases the margin in these Kerry states. Let's also say that the surge in African American voters helps him shave by half the GOP margin of victory in the South. All that adds up to a potential Obama edge of perhaps one or two million voters, if not more. He’ll have added all these voters, and he'll have won a convincing popular vote victory. But if the mischievous Electoral College ends in a tie, once again we would be embroiled in a national drama over the process by which we elect our president.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Leonard Steinhorn - 7/12/2008

I guess people believe what they want to believe, irrespective of the truth. That's part of the problem with our politics today, particularly when partisans claim they're objective with no political agenda ("The lady doth protest too much, methinks," Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2). I'll leave it at that.

Tim R. Furnish - 7/12/2008

Exactly. And your cogent discussion with the author that follows only reinforces my point.

Leonard Steinhorn - 7/12/2008

Let me see ... if a six million vote margin in a region comprising 13 states isn't noteworthy, then I guess I have to be wrong. Bush won all 168 Electoral College votes there, and for years -- ever since the Civil Rights bills of the Sixties -- the Republicans have counted on a "solid South." You cite Clinton as winning states, but remember, he didn't win the region, and if you add in Perot, he came far short of a majority in the popular vote. And that was my point about the South -- if high black voting shaves the six million vote margin in half, and if Obama adds to the Kerry margin in the rest of the country, then Obama may accumulate a one to two million vote margin. So please, before you pontificate and make sandbox accusations, look at what I wrote and stop infusing your partisanship into it. I could have easily broken down the country differently and come to the same popular vote breakdown, but as I and most others who write about American politics believe, the South has long stood out as a singular region in its voting patterns.

R.R. Hamilton - 7/12/2008

I'm not partisan; I could care less if McCain or Obama wins. You'll never see me take a stand favoring one or the other.

On the other hand, you are either (1) dishonestly partisan, as Mr. Furnish contends, or (2) ignorant of U.S. electoral history.

You say, "[T]the South is the one region -- note the word region -- that has consistently voted as a bloc in recent elections". Let's test that statement against the facts.

In the last four presidential elections, the GOP has won one contest in the Northeast -- Bush nipped Gore in New Hampshire in 2000. In the same four elections, the Democrats have won ten contests in the South -- Clinton won five Southern states in both 1992 and 1996 (AR, LA, KY, TN, and GA in 1992 and the same first four in 1996 while swapping a loss in GA with a win in FL).

Thus, at the very least, we can say that the Northeast has "bloc-voted" as much as the South. And we haven't even started with the Pacific West. Therefore, you could have made your point better, albeit in a non-partisan way, if you had stressed the bloc-voting of the Northeast rather than the South.

And if you wanted to address the issue of "bloc-voting" even more intelligently, (but again, in a non-partisan way), you could've examined the growing divide between the "blue" cities and the "red" countryside. In the airtight 2000 election, Bush won California rural counties that George McGovern won in his landslide defeat in 1972. If that's not something to remark on, I don't know what is. Or, you could write about how the Democratic Party has become the party of the richest areas of America, while the poorest states and counties are among the surest to vote GOP.

But to single out the South -- incorrectly -- as "the one region" that bloc-votes -- is both unfair and unprofessional.

Leonard Steinhorn - 7/11/2008

Here's another example of how partisans can't let go and will try anything to shape an argument to fit their agenda. Clearly you know what I mean better than I do -- which again is characteristic of a partisan worldview. Though my meaning was pretty straightforward, let me state my point once again, but this time I'll add a word that was implied but evidently needs to be written. My point is this: Bush won 13 Southern states collectively by 6 million votes, and Kerry won the 37 other states and DC collectively by 3 million votes (it's an especially relevant point because the South is the one region -- note the word region -- that has consistently voted as a bloc in recent elections). I then used this point to show how Obama might accumulate a one to two million popular vote victory nationwide. So my apologies for once again stating what I wrote. I know you'll probably try to twist and manipulate, but if that makes your partisan soul happy, be my guest.

R.R. Hamilton - 7/10/2008

Btw, given the outcome of the Democratic Party nominating process, shouldn't Obama be the last person to complain about losing an election where he gets the most votes?

R.R. Hamilton - 7/10/2008

I notice that Mr. Steinhorn doesn't say you're wrong, just that you're partisan. Of course, anyone can read Mr. Steinhorn's own words: "Remember, Bush won 13 southern states by 6 million votes in 2004, and since he won the entire country by 3 million votes, then Kerry won the 37 remaining states and DC by 3 million votes." Let's repeat part of that: "Kerry won the 37 remaining states". Of course, Kerry won only 19 states, so Mr. Furnish is right and Mr. Steinhorn is wrong.

Next time, Mr. Steinhorn, write "Remember, Kerry won 11 northeastern states and DC by 3.4 million votes in 2004, and since he lost the entire country by 3 million votes, then Bush won the 39 remaining states by 6.4 million votes." That way -- since Bush actually did win 31 of the remaining 39 states -- you'll be closer to the truth.

Leonard Steinhorn - 7/10/2008

Try reading the article before you inject ideology and partisanship into it. The observations of mine that you cite focused on the popular vote. So your comments are largely irrelevant -- except insofar as you want to score some dubious political points.

Tim R. Furnish - 7/10/2008

The problem with this article is that it's predicated on an untruth (or, dare I say, it a lie): that "Bush won 13 Southern states by 6 million votes...and since he won the entire country by 3 million votes, then Kerry won the remaining 37 states and DC by 3 million votes." This sets up the false notion that Bush won simply by piling up big electoral margins in the South. But as even CNN admits, Bush won the majority vote in 31 states--NOT merely 13. In fact, it's impossible to win the Presidential election in the manner this article implies Bush did. One MUST win enough state-by-state contests to reach 270 electoral.
This piece strikes me as simply pre-whining on the Left, should BHO fail to win the Electoral College.