Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

The Method Chosen to Allocate Colorado's Electoral Vote
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

by Gary Griffin

Dear Mr. Berg-Andersson,

I was interested in your Commentary on the issue of Colorado's "Amendment 36" which would divide that State's Electoral Vote for President proportionally.

The method chosen to allocate the Electoral Vote to presidential tickets seems rather clumsy. A better way of doing the job would be to use something like the d'Hondt method, where the popular vote for a ticket would be divided by the number of Electors won plus one, at each stage of the allocation until all the Electoral Votes have been awarded.

As an example- if you were allocating three total Electoral Votes from a State where Party A had polled 300,000 votes and Party B 200,000- the stages of the allocation process would be as follows.

 Party AParty BResult
Elector 1(0 seats, divide vote by 1)
(0 seats, divide vote by 1)
Party A wins its 1st EV
Elector 2(1 seat, divide by 2)
(0 seats, divide by 1)
Party B wins its 1st EV
Elector 3(1 seat, divide by 2)
(1 seat, divide by 2)
Party A wins its 2nd EV

These sort of calculations can be carried out for any number of persons in the State's Electoral College or any number of presidential tickets.

Another system, say one which divides by 1:3:5 and so on (rather than d'Hondt's 1:2:3 and so on), could be used instead. Different patterns of divisors have been used in various countries and these all tend to produce a very similar proportional result.

If it is desired to use an American-designed system of divisors, the method used to allocate Congressional seats to the States could be adapted. This, in effect, divides the apportionment populations of the States by the square roots of the numbers of seats awarded to them at each stage of the allocation so far plus one rather than by the numbers themselves.

Gary Griffin

Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:

I hope none of those who read 'The Green Papers' from "across the Pond" will be offended if I here point out that the primary problem with adopting the d'Hondt system of Proportional Representation (or some variant thereof) is that it would seem, to the average American, to be a bit too "European"- by which I merely mean that it sounds rather alien to begin with on this side of the ol' "Pond" and, when one actually discovers the places where it is already in use, it then appears to belong far more to a Parliamentary system of Democracy than at all to the Presidential system we Americans, in fact, live under- at the State, as well as on the Federal, level.

The American concept of Representation (which, of course, dates all the way back to when the original constituent States of the future United States of America were still colonies of the young British Empire) is based on the voters being able to freely choose a representative of the People (whether the office in question be Legislative, Executive or [in many States] Judicial) who will, once installed in office, be directly accountable to that very People throughout his or her term in that office: it is primarily for this reason that "first past the post" simple plurality is the prevalent method utilized in American elections (with some jurisdictions adding the "second ballot" runoff as the only variant thereof) and it also explains why Proportional Representation has failed to make much headway here in the USofA: if, say, a legislative District can elect 5 members of a State legislative body and Proportional Representation allows 1 or 2 of these to not be candidates of the Majority Party which the majority of the electorate in that District clearly seems to support, then who is considered to be the representative(s) of the constituency as a whole?-- that is, who truly represents (and, therefore, is directly accountable to) the constituency as a constituency?

Now, it may well be true that- ever since the implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in the cases grouped around Reynolds v. Sims [377 U.S. 533 (1964)], which ordered "one man, one vote" (that is, one person's vote being as equal as practicable to any other person's vote in the same overarching jurisdiction [a State re: the many constituencies electing members of a chamber of that State's legislature]) as the only acceptable method of apportioning a legislative body- constituencies change boundaries with every decennial Census (for instance, my parents still live in the same County I live in, only a few miles away, and yet, when I first moved back to New Jersey over a decade ago, I was not- at first- in the same Legislative District [which, in my State, elects the members of both houses of the Legislature-- that is, we don't have separate, unrelated constituencies for each chamber] as they were, then- for ten years- I was and now I'm, once again, no longer in my parents' Legislative District!); in the companion case of Lucas v. Colorado General Assembly [377 U.S. 713 (1964)], the U.S. Supreme Court specifically struck down even one house of a State's legislature being based on geography, rather than population (thus, ever since, no State Senate can- as the United States Senate is re: the States of the Union- have equal numbers of its members elected from long-established "communities"- such as Counties or groups of Counties- acting as a more or less permanent constituency regardless of population change within such "community" or distribution as compared to the State as a whole).

This very truth would, or so one might argue, serve as "proof" of the concept that a single accountable representative alone responsible to a given constituency is no longer necessary as the basis of Representation in this country (since the constituency itself is changeable [for example, in the New Jersey elections of 1997, my current State Senator was re-elected (for another four-year term) to continue to represent a constituency that included both myself and my parents; presumably he did so, at least in part, on the basis of later being able to get re-elected to yet another term in the State Senate after this four-year term had expired: however, by the time he next faced (and won) re-election (in 2001), he was being chosen to represent a constituency which still included me- but not my parents! (meanwhile, he was also being judged- in part- by some voters the office he now held had not hitherto [at least not over the previous decade] even represented!!)])-- yet Americans, to this day, still hold fast to the notion of not choosing their State legislators via any form of Proportional Representation (though, up until comparatively recently, Illinois- for one- did utilize a modified version of Proportional Representation in the manner in which it once elected the lower house of its legislature... but this was certainly not the usual practice across the country... and, as if to emphasize the point, Illinois itself no longer does so!)

At least the chambers of State legislatures are relatively stable as to their total numbers-- there usually is no significant change in the size of a State's legislative body from Apportionment to Apportionment unless there happens to be a very good reason to do so... not so the size of a State's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, however! (California, for instance, has 40 State Senators and 80 State Assemblymen-- it has had the same number of legislators in each chamber ever since its current State Constitution was first drafted, back when it was entitled to only 4 Congressmen out of 293 [1.37% of the total House]: nowadays, the State is entitled to 53 out of 435 [12.18%- a nearly ninefold increase!]) Where a State has gained House seats in the latest Census, you have- in the first elections held under the latest Apportionment- new, never-before-existant Congressional Districts in which there is no "record of the incumbent" on which the voters of the constituency can pass judgement; where a State has lost House seats as the result of the most recent Census, there are quite a few cases of incumbents who are not at all the current incumbent now becoming the "Congressman-of-record" for many voters (as the first General Election campaign under the new Apportionment gets underway, many of those living in a newly-redrawn constituency are, at the time, being represented by someone who will not, even if re-elected, at all be representing that constituency after the next election [thus, a Congressman seeking re-election in such a case will be voting on the floor of the U.S. House on behalf of some to whom he/she is not at all "speaking" in the campaign while "speaking" to many for whom he/she is not currently voting!]).

Again, all of the above would- so the observer from that proverbial "another planet" might come to think- seem to well weaken the American electorate's evident dependence on "first past the post"/single-representative accountability as opposed to a system of Proportional Representation (of any type, not just the d'Hondt version you yourself have described)... but it, at least as of yet, hasn't! Therefore, to borrow the prose of the American Declaration of Independence, "the forms to which they are accustomed" are, indeed, not to be "right"ed by "abolishing" the principal concept of Representation Americans have held ever since- and, truth be told, even long before- the Revolution: thus, a move toward Proportional Representation- and certainly in the form of the d'Hondt system- would, or so I would think, be- to the "bell curve" of my fellow countrymen- one of those very "light and transient causes" for which "Government s long established should not be changed" of which the Declaration itself speaks! There appears to be no easily-discernible benefit to be derived from abandoning one long-established form of Representation for another, and one which- again- seems so "from across the Pond" (even the very name "d'Hondt" contributes to this [as would the name "Imperiali", for that matter!])... the voters of Alaska, a few years back, rejected the use of Single Transferable Vote PR for Statewide elections and that seems to be in keeping with the general political "culture" of the American electorate.

If Americans are not at all willing to adopt Proportional Representation for other offices, one can bet their bottom dollar (or, for that matter, Euro! [;-)]) that PR will certainly not fly when it comes to the proportional allocation of Presidential Electors. Keep in mind that, although a Presidential Election is really 51 separate elections in each of the constituent States of the Union and that Union's sole incorporated Territory- the District of Columbia, the President of the United States- as a person, as well as the Presidency as an office- is the ultimate single representative of the People to be held accountable to a constituency, a constituency which- in this case- is the entire Nation! It matters not that the Electoral College system really holds whoever is elected President accountable to 51 different constituencies (or that- as was the case four years ago- the person with the plurality of votes Nationwide can still fail of being elected to the Presidency [thus, the manner in which the United States elects its President (and Vice-President) can actually be most violative of the very essence of that "first past the post" underlaying the long-established concept of Representation in America])- it also matters not that how the Electors are actually allocated in a given State has nothing directly to do with our so thinking- the fact remains that we Americans think of our President as representing the Nation as a whole and, somehow, the term "Proportional Representation" and a name like "d'Hondt" associated therewith do not all that well dovetail with that very mode of thinking. At least the system of dividing a State's Electoral Vote currently used in Maine and Nebraska does fit into a "first past the post" mode of thinking.

No, I'm afraid that- if Colorado's "Amendment 36" is, in fact, adopted by the State's electorate next Tuesday (and, further, survives any and all legal challenges to it in court), followed by, perhaps, other States following suit- any such future proportional allocation of a State's Electoral Vote will not be on the basis of the d'Hondt- or any other- system of Proportional Representation. Thus, the model found in "Amendment 36" (perhaps even win or lose!) is quite likely to become the model for any State later wishing to divide its Electoral Vote proportionally.


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