Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Congress Can Ameliorate the Electoral College Imbalance on Its Own

It has happened five times in the history of the country that the winner of the popular vote lost in the Electoral College. Two of the times were in the past quarter century. The last four times it happened (1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016), it was a Democrat winning the popular vote but losing the election, and the fifth time (1824) the victim was a guy who would become a Democrat shortly after the election (Andrew Jackson). Many Democrats have focused on abolishing the Electoral College, especially after Donald Trump arranged for false electors in some of the states he lost. The problem is, that would require 38 states to ratify a constitutional amendment, and that will never happen. Is it hopeless then? Danielle Allen has argued in The Washington Post that while the first-choice option is politically impossible, there is a second-choice option that the Democrats could carry out next time they get the trifecta: Enlarging the House.

The problem with the Electoral College is that low-population red states in the Midwest and West are greatly overweighted on account of their two senators. Wyoming has a population of 580,000 and California has a population of 39 million. In a fair system, California should have 67 times the clout of Wyoming. But in the Electoral College, the ratio is 54/3 or just 18. So Wyoming has about 3.7x more power than it really should have. The same holds more or less for Alaska, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, West Virginia, Hawaii and more states. If the smaller states were randomly blue or red, it might not matter, but except for Hawaii, all the other states with 3 or 4 electoral votes are red states, giving the Republicans more power than they would get in a system in which states got electoral votes based strictly on their population.

In 1790, each of the 105 House members represented 34,000 people. In the past, the size of the House was increased over time. That stopped in 1929 when Congress permanently fixed the size of the House at 435. The population then was 120 million, so each House member represented 275,000 people. Now each of the 435 House members represents, on average, about 760,000 people. If Congress wanted each member to represent 275,000 people, as in 1929, it could increase the size of the House to 1,200 members. In over 200 countries, the ratio of population to members of the lower house is less than 275,000. In Italy, it is 97,000. In Spain, it is 79,000. In France, it is 72,000. In the U.K. it is 45,000.

This expansion would also go far toward fixing the Electoral College problem. In a 1,200-seat House, California would have 142 House seats and 144 electoral votes, Wyoming would have 2 House seats and 4 electoral votes, and the ratio would be about 36. While not 67, it is more than 18, and would reduce the power of the small states. And the simple thing here is that all it takes to do this is for Congress to pass a new law. No constitutional amendment is needed.

A second problem with the U.S. electoral system is gerrymandering. If done right, the expansion could also address that. To make the math simpler, let's assume the House triples in size, to 1,305 members. But rather than make 1,305 smaller, gerrymandered districts, the number of districts is kept at 435 (or even made smaller). Each district would elect three members by proportional representation by party or ranked-choice voting. In that way, if a red district had one-third Democrats, they could elect one of the three members. It would be much harder for a partisan legislature to draw lines to grab nearly all the seats. Right now, if a Republican legislature draws a map with large numbers of 55% R, 45% D districts, the Republicans win all those seats. In a three-member district, each party would be assured of one seat and the other one would be competitive. The devil is in the details, but introducing multimember districts that were not winner-take-all, as is now the case, would go a long way to making sure the minority party in each district had a decent shot at some representation. A 1,200-member House and 240 five-member districts with some sort of proportional representation would make gerrymandering nearly impossible. The limit here is to have all House members run statewide and then allocate seats to the parties in proportion to the votes.

Having mixed representation per district might also reduce partisanship. If a single district had both Democratic and Republican representatives, they would have to work together to do things that benefit their district. In short, there are things that can be done by Congress to make democracy work better and which do not require a constitutional amendment. (V)

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