Initiative could make elections more fair

Prof C Explains
4 min readJan 20, 2009

by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

In the lead-up to today’s presidential inauguration, the media outlets are once again filled with pundits explaining how Barack Obama won the election. A brilliant strategy, tireless volunteers, a once-in-a-generation leader — all angles are being pushed and prodded. One speedy fellow — Chuck Todd — even managed to write and publish a book titled “How Barack Obama won” just in time for sale at the inauguration.

I’m inclined to believe the good things being said about President Obama and his campaign, but I’m also sure that Todd and the other pundits would now be pontificating on how brilliant John McCain’s campaign was if he had won in November. To the victor go the spoils, I guess. But these founts of political wisdom are missing an important aspect about the past election and all modern presidential elections: All presidential campaigns are tailored to fit the awkward and inherently unfair system by which we elect presidents, namely the Electoral College.

Most of us are vaguely aware that a winning candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. That magic number is one vote more than half of the 538 total electoral votes possible: one for every one of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, one for each senator of every state and three electors for the District of Columbia.

Unfortunately, this means that while the number of electors that a state sends to the electoral college is somewhat proportional to the population of state, it is not directly proportional. This problem is compounded by the fact that 48 of the states have a “winner take all” approach to assigning their electors. For example, McCain won Missouri by 0.15 percent but was awarded 100 percent of Missouri’s 11 electors. These two aspects of our current Electoral College system lead to some very undemocratic effects.

First, a presidential candidate can win the popular vote but not win the necessary votes in the Electoral College to become president. This has happened several times in our history. Second, some votes count more than others. Votes in the Electoral College from less populous states are given more weight. For example, if you live in Nebraska, Rhode Island or Vermont, your vote counts about twice as much as our votes do here in Missouri.

Any fair system of elections — from city council to president — should uphold these two basic…

Prof C Explains

J Scott Christianson: UM Teaching Prof, Technologist & Entrepreneur. Connect with me here: