Sunday, October 24, 2004

Faithless electors

Don't get too excited about that potential faithless Bush elector in West Virginia. Robb says it's "highly unlikely" he'd vote for Kerry, but that he might vote for a Republican other than Bush. I claim it is therefore highly unlikely he will effect the outcome of the presidential election, even if we assume the electoral college comes within one vote of a tie.

According to the Twelfth Amendment, if a candidate gets "a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed" (currently 270 out of 538), then he wins the presidency. If neither gets a majority, then the House chooses the president. If the voters choose more than 270 or fewer than 269 electors pledged to Bush, or if Bush loses West Virginia, then Robb can't make a difference. Let's consider the interesting scenarios: a 270-268 or 269-269 Bush-Kerry electoral split in which Bush wins West Virginia. If Robb doesn't vote for Bush or Kerry, then we get a 269-268 or 268-269 split, respectively. In either case, neither Bush nor Kerry would have "a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed," and the election would get thrown to the House. Thus, Robb only changes things in the event of an original 270-268 split, by making a Bush victory contingent on a House vote. However, as I will explain below, Bush would almost certainly win such a House vote. Thus, Robb's vote still doesn't matter.

The House would choose the President in a slightly complicated manner. Each state's delegation would get one vote, with the choices being Bush, Kerry, whoever Robb voted for, and abstention, the rule being that only the top three scorers in the electoral college may be chosen from. To become President, a candidate needs to win 26 delegations ("a majority of all the states"). (The quorum is "a member or members from two-thirds of the states," a requirement that neither party could deny the other.) Bush has the advantage due to the numerous small Red states. There are 30 delegations with a Republican majority, 16 with a Democratic majority, and 4 tied (derived from data here). In order for Kerry to get 26 votes, he would need to flip ten states. The only reason I can imagine a Republican representative voting against his party is to match his vote with his state's popular vote. Could Kerry win enough states' popular votes to make this work without also winning a majority of the electoral votes? Let's use Slate's very inclusive list of 19 states in which the election outcome is at all in doubt. Of the safe states not on this list, only CT, DE, and IL are safe Kerry states that have Republican-majority House delegations - all by a single representative. Let's assume Kerry gets a Republican defector from each of these states - three states down, seven to go. The states ME, NJ, OR, WV, and WA already have Democratic-majority House delegations; hence, Kerry would need to win the popular vote in 7 of the 14 other states on Slate's list: VA, MO, MI, CO, AZ, WI, PA, OH, NM, NH, NV, MN, IA, FL.

Kerry will surely win the popular vote in NJ, WA, and ME's more populous southern Congressional district, putting him at 182 electoral votes without winning any of the above 14 states. If Bush wins OR, then Bush almost certainly will win more than a majority of electoral votes, so nudge Kerry up to 189, still with seven more states to go. Kerry is even more likely to win MI than OR, so put Kerry at 206 with six more states to go. If Bush wins all of the big three battleground states - FL, OH, and PA - then he'll surely win more than a majority of electoral votes, so put Kerry at 226 (OH), 227 (PA), or 233 (FL), with five more states to go.

Suppose Kerry wins OH and PA, putting him at 247 with four more states to go. That leaves one remotely possible scenario for Robb to very indirectly give Kerry the presidency: Kerry wins NH, NM, NV, IA - and none of the remaining states, hitting 268, and popular pressure causes enough Republican representatives from Kerry states to defect. Kerry winning NV but losing MN is a real long shot.

Suppose Kerry wins only one of the big three. Then Kerry will certainly also lose AZ, CO, MO, VA, and, by hypothesis, WV. That leaves IA, MN, NH, NM, NV, WI, ME's northern district, and perhaps four of CO's electoral votes (if that ballot measure passes and survives legal challenges), for a total of 46 electoral votes. If Kerry wins OH of the big three and all of these 46 EV's, then he's at 272 - too high. Take away NH or the 4 EV's from CO to put him at 268. If Kerry wins PA of the big three, then we could also take away ME's northern district to stay at 268, or equivalently give Kerry NH and the 4 CO EV's but take away NM or (more likely) NV. If Kerry wins FL of the big three, then we need to trim those 46 EV's down to 36, which can be done in several ways I'm not going to list. The bottom line: the sequence of states NV, IA, FL, OH, PA is in descending order of Bush's current strength in the polls, so all of these scenarios are possible but improbable.

Making the relevancy of Robb's vote even more unlikely is the high probability that, if some Republicans representatives are pressured to defect so as to match their state's popular vote, then the same will be true for Democrats: Red states AR, ND, SD, TN, and WV all have delegations with a Democratic majority. (Update: I forgot to add that Red states TX and MI have evenly split delegations.) And we haven't even considered how much pressure there would be on the House to vote for Bush simply because he should have won 270 EV's, not 269.

Well, I think that's enough obsessive electoral math for now. (If I get into this state of mind again, then perhaps I'll figure out the most likely scenarios for a 269-269 electoral split.) The moral of the story is that your vote probably won't matter, even if you're an elector.

Update: Michael Barone also thinks Bush would win if the election went to the House. He also notes an important wrinkle I left out of my analysis: the next Congress would do the voting, not this one. However, Barone argues that "Republicans are very unlikely to lose more than two delegations," "Democrats could easily lose one delegation," and that the currently tied Texas delegation is "overwhelmingly likely to go Republican." Though I won't go into details this time, I think at best Kerry could end up having one fewer delegation to flip. I still think it is highly unlikely that Robb will swing the election, but I leave the details of updating my original analysis using Barone's House election predictions as an exercise for the reader.

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