Little-known Facts
Click on a link to find out rarely-known facts about the electoral college and its implications

State size
Special interests
Power of state legislatures
And the last shall be first
Ignoring your vote
Reliance on geography
Vague values
Electoral replacements
Electoral tie
Favorite son effect
A few states to win
Constitutional residence

State size

One of the objectives of the Founders was to ensure that candidate platforms and campaigns addressed the needs and concerns of each state equally.  The Electoral College was created to ensure candidates would pay attention to every state’s needs, since some states obviously overwhelmed others in population.  However, this is hardly working today, as candidates spend the majority of their time, money and energy wooing a handful of swing states, and ignoring the worries of most states - large and small.

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Special interests

“The Electoral College provides the potential for any cohesive special interest concentrated in a large, competitive state to exercise disproportionate power.  Wall Street workers in New York, movie industry employees in California, and those earning a living in the energy business in Texas could, in theory, swing their states to one candidate or the other.  Do we really want a system of electing the president that provides such potential to special interests?

Disproportionate power to any group is difficult to reconcile with political equality.  As James Madison proclaimed at the Constitutional Convention, ‘local considerations must give way to the general interest.’”  (George C. Edwards III, Why the Electoral College is Bad for America)

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Power of state legislatures

State legislatures have the authority to replace their state’s appointed electors after the popular vote with their own instead of following the decision of the parties.  Florida’s Republican Legislature was prepared to do so in 2000 if the Supreme Court had not decided in Bush’s favor in Bush vs. Gore.  Consider this excerpt from the Washington Post (July 19, 2004):
“Suppose that some of the electors -- the people who under our constitutional system conduct the real presidential election some weeks after voters go to the polls -- aren't actually selected by the voters.
Impossible? Not if you give a close reading to the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Bush v. Gore, which finally settled the presidential election of 2000, if not to everyone's satisfaction. Under that decision, there is no guarantee that the electors who are decisive in choosing the next president of the United States will themselves be selected by the people of the United States.
That's because the justices ruled in that case that state legislatures have unlimited authority to determine whether citizens in their respective states shall be allowed to vote for president at all.
"The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States," the court said, "unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College."
Imagine, now, a state in which the same party controls both houses of the legislature and the governor's office. There would presumably be no partisan impediment to the state legislature, with the governor's approval, deciding that the majority party in state government shall control the state's electoral vote, regardless of any popular vote in the state.
The ordinary protection against this sort of usurpation is presumably the "outrage factor" -- the idea that no legislature would risk the wrath of the citizenry by usurping their right to vote. But in 2000, unfortunately, Florida demonstrated that legislators might well be willing to risk the outrage if they have a case, no matter how contestable, that the electors they are choosing actually do represent majority sentiment in the state."

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And the last shall be first

The four elections in which the president-elect lost the popular vote are:

1824 – Adams over Jackson

Popular vote margin: 44,804 - favoring Jackson

Electoral College margin: 15 - favoring Jackson

*John Q. Adams received fewer electoral votes and fewer popular votes than Andrew Jackson, but, as outlined by the Constitution, when no candidate receives the majority of the Electoral College vote the decision is turned over to the House of Representatives. There, 13 state delegations voted for John Q. Adams, 7 for Jackson and 3 for Crawford. (

1876 – Hayes over Tilden

Popular vote margin: 264,292 - favoring Tilden

Electoral College margin: 1 - electing Hayes

1888 – Harrison over Cleveland

Popular vote margin: 100,456 - favoring Cleveland

Electoral College margin: 65 - electing Harrison

2000 – Bush over Gore

Popular vote margin: 543,895 (the largest so far) - favoring Gore

Electoral College margin: 5 - electing Bush

*Note: Some sources also consider 1960 a contested election. Although most believe Kennedy won the popular vote and the electoral college, some believe that there exists an alternative result that puts Nixon on top in popular votes. However, this election is not as harshly contested as the above four.

It is only luck that has saved us from more situations like these where the White House is not delivered to the President-Elect. Statistics show that close elections possess a very high possibility of this distorted result. Several elections throughout the 19th and 20th centuries have been so close that a small difference in votes – a fraction of 1 percent of the national vote – would have presented a different winner.

Election Year

Shift Needed

In Which States



Ohio, Kentucky, New York, Louisiana, Indiana



New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Jersey



New York



Georgia, Maryland, Delaware



New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oregon, Wisconsin, Maryland, Connecticut



Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Connecticut, California, Nevada



New York



New York



New York, Indiana, Wisconsin, New Jersey, California



Indiana, Kentucky, California, Delaware, Oregon, West Virginia



Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Maryland, Utah, Wyoming



Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Delaware, West Virginia, Montana, Maryland






California, Ohio, Illinois



Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada



Hawaii, Ohio

*Information from Why the Electoral College is Bad for America, George C. Edwards III

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 Ignoring your vote

Some Electoral College supporters say the magnification of the margin of victory that the institution creates is actually beneficial, at least to the president.  Their argument appears to stem from a hope that people might ignore the popular vote, focusing on the electoral vote instead and offering the administration more credibility and legitimacy.

Meanwhile fewer and fewer voices are heard in the nationwide contest.  In 1996 we saw the number of competitive states drop from 1992.  2000 had fewer than 1996 and in 2004 the trend continued with just 11 states considered competitive.  In 2008 we might well have less than 10 competitive states.

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Reliance on geography

Because the Electoral College system is so geographically influenced, candidates for president are hindered when choosing a running mate.  While a candidate may want to pick his or her running mate based on leadership skills or stances on political issues, the Electoral College has made candidates increasingly dependent on geography.  Since fewer and fewer states are now receiving attention from campaigns due to a decrease in the number of "battleground states", future vice presidential candidates may be chosen based solely upon where they are from.  While this strategic thinking on the part of presidential candidates may help them win elections, it does not appear to be in the best interest of the American people.

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Vague values

The Electoral College system not only removes the voice of a majority of the country, but in the end distorts the will of voters.  George Edwards III explains, “There is typically a substantial disparity in almost all elections between the national popular vote a candidate receives and that candidate’s percentage of the electoral vote.  In the election of 1860, although Stephen A. Douglas was second in popular votes, he was fourth in the Electoral College.  Although he won 74 percent as many popular votes as were cast for Abraham Lincoln, his electoral vote was just 6.7 percent of Lincoln’s.  Douglas’s popular vote was 162 percent of John C. Breckinridge’s, yet he received only 16.7 percent as many electoral votes as Breckinridge.  And Douglas’s popular vote exceeded John Bell’s by more than two times, but Bell had three times as many votes in the Electoral College.”  (George C. Edwards III, Why the Electoral College is Bad for America)

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Electoral replacements

In almost every state today, electors are permitted to appoint their own replacements if they cannot show up on the day electors convene and vote in their state's capital.  Sometimes, the replacements are literally found by roaming the halls in search for candidates, as was Mr. J. J. Levy of Michigan in 1948.  However, when the vote was actually taking place for Michigan that year, Mr. Levy had to be restrained by the other electors – pledged to Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren - from voting for Harry Truman and Alben Barkely.  Evidentially believing in the premise of a direct election Levy was later quoted as saying: “I thought we had to vote for the winning candidate.”

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Electoral tie

When there is a tie in the Electoral College, the election is thrown into Congress, with the House picking the president and the Senate choosing the vice president.  In the House, each state is given one vote, an even further deviation from the principle of one person one vote.  Furthermore, the whole setup provides the chance for a president and vice president to be selected from different parties. 

If by chance no vice presidential candidate manages to obtain a majority in the Senate, there exists no provision in the Constitution providing an explanation of the procedure to follow.  There is also no provision that addresses the possibility of senators or representatives running for president or vice president and voting for themselves.

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Favorite son effect

One of the reasons the Founders created the Electoral College was to prevent a favorite son effect, in which citizens of a state would vote for a candidate who is also from their state solely for that reason.  But in fact, the Electoral College has turned out to promote the favorite son effect instead of suppress it.  Note that every single president, with the exception of James K. Polk in 1844, has won his home state.

*Note: The Federal Elections Commission currently, and incorrectly, explains the favorite son effect as being prevented by parties selecting their presidential and vice presidential nominees from different states.

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A few states to win

Based on the current allocation of electoral votes, a candidate could win the presidency with electoral majorities in only 11 states.  Conversely, a candidate could win every vote in 40 states and still lose the presidency.

The 11 States that can elect the president (electoral votes in parenthesis): California (55), Texas (34), New York (31), Florida (27), Illinois (21), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Michigan (17), Georgia (15), New Jersey (15), North Carolina (15). Total: 271 electoral votes.

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Constitutional residence

"According to the Constitution, electors must vote for at least one candidate from a state other than their own. This is why political parties usually select presidential and vice presidential candidates from different states. If candidates on one ticket were from the same state, that state's electors could not vote for the ticket.

Just before he was nominated as the Republican candidate for vice president in 2000, Dick Cheney owned a home in Texas. Before the election he changed his legal residence to Wyoming, his birth state, which he had represented in Congress. Some Texas voters questioned the move and filed suit over the legitimacy of giving Texas' electoral votes to Bush, who had been Texas governor, and Cheney. Cheney's residence in Wyoming was ruled satisfactory in court."

Emily Fredrix, Associated Press Writer, October 26, 2004

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Electoral College Table of Contents

April 17th 2009
In our view, April 17: Equal Voting

Editorial in the Columbian in favor of the national popular vote plan, which is likely to be passed into law soon in the state of Washington.

February 5th 2009
Push continues to defeat Electoral College
Associated Press

Associated Press wire story on National Popular Vote moving in Vermont features FairVote analysis

January 20th 2009
Initiative could make elections more fair
The Columbia Tribune

Missouri ally of the National Popular Vote plan writes oped in local paper.

January 10th 2009
Abolish the Electoral College
Sarasota Herald Tribune

Editorial strongly in favor of a national popular vote for president via constitutional amendment or the 'compelling' National Popular Vote plan.

December 22nd 2008
Time to eliminate Electoral College?

Editorial supports a national popular vote for president, citing FairVote's research.

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