Some Electoral College math

In a follow-up to my previous post, I thought I should detail some of the basic Electoral College arithmetic on my mind:

Pennsylvania-specific scenario. Suppose the Electoral College results in 2024 are the same as in 2020 except for Arizona and Georgia, which the Republicans are able to flip from red to blue. Putting Pennsylvania aside for a moment, that would yield an Electoral College tally of 262 for Republicans and 257 for Democrats, as shown in this map derived from the handy internet-based calculator:

In this situation, Republicans would need only eight electoral votes from Pennsylvania to reach 270, which would provide an Electoral College victory. While we don’t yet know what will be the new congressional map in Pennsylvania, the current map has eight GOP-leaning seats, as shown in the 538 website’s useful visualization. Republicans are unlikely to do any worse under the new congressional map. Therefore, if Republicans win the gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania next year, it might look attractive for the state GOP to adopt the Maine/Nebraska method of appointing presidential electors. The Republican nominee, whether Trump or another candidate, probably would have a much easier time winning eight electoral votes from GOP-leaning congressional districts than winning the entire state. And if it’s easier for the GOP nominee to win Arizona and Georgia statewide than Pennsylvania, this might be a rational strategy to pursue.

Five-state battleground scenario. If Republicans do especially well in the 2022 midterms, winning the gubernatorial elections in all five key Electoral College battleground (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as Pennsylvania), then the Electoral College math opens up the possibility of pursuing this strategy in all five of these swing states rather than just in Pennsylvania. Using the same internet-based calculator, if the results in 2024 are the same as in 2020 apart from these five states, then the Electoral College tally will stand at 235 for Republicans and 232 for Democrats:

In this situation, adopting the Maine/Nebraska method of appointing electors may enable the GOP to get to 270 electoral votes, and thus an Electoral College victory, even though the Democratic candidate would win the statewide popular vote in all five of these battleground states. Standing at 235 electoral votes, the Republican candidate would be 35 short of 270. How could the GOP nominee reach 270 while lose the statewide popular vote in all five of these states? The congressional map currently under consideration in Arizona has 6 GOP-leaning seats. The new Georgia map is expected to have 9 GOP-leaning seats. In Michigan, the new independent redistricting commission is expected to create a map with 6 GOP-leaning seats. In Wisconsin, where court will draw the new map, it’s likely to have the same number of GOP-leaning seats as the old map, which is 6.

When one adds the 8 GOP-leaning seats expected in Pennsylvania, these five numbers add up to exactly 35: 6+9+6+6+8=35. Thus, it might be a rational strategy for Republicans to opt for winning just these electoral votes from these five battleground states, rather than risk losing an Electoral College majority by having the Democrats win all of the electoral votes in these states (or enough of them for the Democrats to reach 270). Republicans essentially could lock in an Electoral College victory with this strategy even if Democrats are as successful in turning out the vote in 2024 as they were in 2020.

Obviously, winning the key gubernatorial elections is an essential prerequisite for this strategy to be possible. But anyone who is worried that the outcome of the 2024 presidential election will not reflect the will of the electorate as a whole needs to contemplate the possibility of this entirely permissible strategy. There is absolutely nothing antithetical to the existing Electoral College system for other states to adopt the Maine/Nebraska method that those states already have. To be sure, it permits gerrymandering to determine the outcome of the presidential election–a consequence contrary to small d-democracy. But if Maine and Nebraska can do it, so can any other state. Michigan did it once before, with the Supreme Court’s explicit approval in McPherson v. Blacker, and multiple states did this early in the nation’s history.

No “election subversion” of ballots cast is required. Just engineering the Electoral College system so that it favors one party over another in precisely the same way that gerrymandering of congressional districts does.

Share this: