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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What If We Elected Our Governor the Way We Elect Our President? (Hint: Pierce County Is Washington's Ohio)

Posted by on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 4:28 PM

Republican Rob McKenna leads Democrat Jay Inslee in 31 of 38 Washington counties
  • Washington Secretary of State
  • Republican Rob McKenna leads Democrat Jay Inslee in 31 of 38 Washington counties

Sick of rural Washington Republicans complaining about the way Seattle voters dominate our elections, and tired of a presidential election season that focused almost entirely on the idiosyncrasies of a handful of swing states, I decided to conduct a thought experiment. What if we elected our governor the way we elect our president: With a gubernatorial electoral college?

With the aid of news intern Al Jacobs I gathered into a spreadsheet county-by-county election results for every gubernatorial race going back to 1980, and then apportioned electors to each county roughly along the lines that we apportion presidential electors. Each county got a minimum of three electors, with the remainder assigned proportionate to population.

My gubernatorial electoral college has 417 delegates*; a minimum of 209 are needed to win the governor's mansion. And looking at the map above, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that under this electoral college system, Republican Rob McKenna would have won the 2012 election. Despite Democrat Jay Inslee's two to three point lead in the popular vote, McKenna would take the electoral college by a 224 to 193 margin. (County by county electoral college apportionment after the jump.)

Republicans would have also won the governor's mansion in 2004, with Dino Rossi achieving a comfortable 268 to 149 electoral college advantage in a year where the popular vote split nearly fifty-fifty. And in 2008, the only thing keeping Rossi from victory would have been Gregoire's 7,199 vote lead in Pierce County, and the 42 electoral delegates it carried with it. Gregoire took over 53 percent of the popular vote that year.

In fact, Pierce proves to be the electoral tipping point in both 2008 and 2012, and would have gone with the electoral winner in each of the past nine elections. Pierce County is Washington State's Ohio.

Fortunately, we don't elect our governors this way, because it would be stupid. Almost as stupid as counting Black people as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of apportionment. But for some reason this particular quirk of the founders has remained unchallenged, despite the obvious stupidity and unfairness of applying an electoral college in any other context. Go figure.

Gubernatorial Electors by County:

Snohomish 37
Grays Harbor5
Walla Walla5
Jefferson 3
Pend Oreille3
San Juan3

* My 417 delegate gubernatorial electoral college is comprised of two delegates per county (78 electors total) corresponding to US Senators, plus 339 electors apportioned by population, with a minimum of one per county. That 339 number is derived from the 435 presidential electors corresponding to the members of the US House, divided by 50 (states) and multiplied by 39 (counties), rounded down. The apportionment formula is not exact, and does not account for shifting population over the past three decades, but the resulting electoral college margins are large enough that small shifts in apportionment would not have changed the final outcome.


Comments (27) RSS

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The states choose how to apportion their electoral college votes and all currently assign them all to the winner of the popular vote in that state. But they could change the apportionment.

The National Popular Vote aims to get states representing 270+ electoral college votes to agree to assign their votes instead to the winner of the national popular vote. Currently, states representing 49% of the 270 necessary votes have passed laws to this effect (including Washington), which will come into force once enough states have passed the laws. It doesn't eliminate the electoral college, just changes how votes are assigned. See Hendrik Hertzberg's blog on the New Yorker webpage or for more
Posted by seaaan on November 15, 2012 at 4:32 PM · Report this
Goldy 26
@25 Legislative districts are of roughly equal population size. States are not. So it's not comparable.
Posted by Goldy on November 15, 2012 at 11:09 AM · Report this
While a somewhat interesting exercise, wouldn't it make more sense to allocate the Electoral Votes based on Legislative Districts as opposed to Counties? There aren't two State Senators for every county - that's not how WA's legislature is divided.
Posted by searunner on November 15, 2012 at 9:51 AM · Report this
Posted by treacle on November 15, 2012 at 8:45 AM · Report this

How about an Electoral College to decide where four bros go to get a drink?

"Three of us wanted the Classic Tavern, but somehow we ended up at the Grape Adventure!"
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on November 15, 2012 at 7:45 AM · Report this
Tacoma Traveler 22

Do you not realize that a series of political events that directly impacted the rights of GLBT people took place in Tacoma this year?

if the Stranger's beat includes politics, why ignore something that could have been catastrophic to GLBT civil rights in WA- like a Senator Jack Connolly?

This may shock you, so you may want to sit down before you read this, but we do have politics in Tacoma. And ignoring it didn't make it any easier for us to make sure the good side won this time.
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on November 15, 2012 at 6:59 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 21
Total fucking bullshit. If we elected thethe governor like this we'd have gerrymandered every fucking county in the state. This ignores the electoral college is driven in large part by the census and the subsequent redistricting that takes place afterwards.

The election is over and the good guys won. Time to move on.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on November 15, 2012 at 6:55 AM · Report this
Would be cool to see a version of that map with the counties re-proportioned by population. That would be a lot more clear.
Posted by greggreggreggreg on November 15, 2012 at 6:42 AM · Report this

How deeply can you miss the point?

You can't claim that "your vote only matters if you live in a state (or county or whatever) that is split roughly 50/50" unless you've already acknowledged that everywhere else, the votes are equally important, but essentially decided, as though it was a form of early voting.

An area that is already 80% Democrat or 80% Republican still contributes to the total, and each of those votes matters just as much. They just don't effect the results at the last minute like the closer areas do.
Posted by Lymis on November 15, 2012 at 6:36 AM · Report this
NotSean 18

The Stranger's beat is:
Capital Hill,
The 6 foot space in front of a writer's home or car or bus route

Posted by NotSean on November 15, 2012 at 6:15 AM · Report this
Tacoma Traveler 17

Then why feature so many stories about Olympia? Are we holding part of HUMP at the Capitol Theatre because Oly is merely an exclave neighborhood of Seattle now?
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on November 15, 2012 at 5:51 AM · Report this
I don't remember where it says that the Stranger is "Seattle/Tacoma's only newspaper" ...Hmmm. Perhaps if you feel underrepresented in the South, a liberal leaning weekly might be a good business venture?
Posted by zobot on November 15, 2012 at 4:33 AM · Report this
The Electoral College was useful to the slave states at the time because they could count their slaves as 3/5 of a person and thus get more electoral votes for their state. Of course, those slaves could not vote so the white males who owned property and could vote had a disproportionate influence in a presidential election.
Posted by nwcitizen on November 15, 2012 at 2:35 AM · Report this
Fortunately, we don't elect our governors this way, because it would be stupid. Almost as stupid as counting Black people as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of apportionment.


Not that dumb, cracker! Jesus christ I can't believe I just read that.
Posted by andrew on November 15, 2012 at 12:34 AM · Report this
Tacoma Traveler 13

I didn't mean to imply that you yourself resented Pierce County. I meant to imply that most of Seattle looks down on us in a nasty way. this is reflected in the way the Seattle press ignores us completely, as the Stranger did during this past election season. Publicola at least mentioned the Darnielle-Connoly race and recognized what Jack Connoly as Senator would have meant for GLBT civil rights in WA. The Stranger though seems to have a blind spot that runs between Federal Way and Olympia.

And by the way, you're welcome for the fight we put on for R74 down here. I busted my own ass four nights a week on that thing for two and a half months. And no, you couldn't have done it without us and the effort me and my fellow volunteers as well as the wonderful staff we had down here and what we managed to do. Nor could Inslee have become viable if it had not been for that primary win, handed to him mostly by Art Wang and his hard working team.

And yes, you do owe Art a big thank you for not having to refer to McKenna as the governor-elect. Maybe you could use a little bit of that journalistic influence (did I mention that alot of Tacomans read the Stranger?) to gin up some support for the people down here who made those wins possible. Maybe four years from now you might look into what it is we do down here.
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on November 14, 2012 at 10:06 PM · Report this
Goldy 12
@9 I don't know how you read this post as hating on Pierce County. I just pointed out the crucial role Pierce plays.
Posted by Goldy on November 14, 2012 at 9:38 PM · Report this
seandr 11
@6: Return them to territorial status?
Posted by seandr on November 14, 2012 at 8:52 PM · Report this
@5 You've made my point for me.

Under an electoral college system, your vote only matters if you live in a state (or county or whatever) that is split roughly 50/50. Rather than campaign to win as many votes as they can, the candidates campaign only to the voters in those close states, ignoring the rest. Democracy suffers. This "meaningless bullshit" points that out quite nicely.
Posted by Moag on November 14, 2012 at 7:53 PM · Report this
Tacoma Traveler 9
It would make it alot easier if you would take Pierce County more seriously. Here in the 27th District, we almost lost our Senate seat to a homophobic bigot who self-financed a million-dollar campaign. people down here do read the Stranger, and having you endorse the GLBT-friendly Jeannie Darnielle might have made it easier to win that election.

Also, the efforts of Washington United for Marriage here in Tacoma made R74 possible. We knocked on a crazy amount of doors and drove everybody with a 253 area code crazy to offset the heavy opposition we expected to see in Eastern WA. While we lost Pierce County by a point or two, had we not fought the battle down here that you ignored, it would not have been possible for King County and Thurston to overpower the rest of the state.

Inslee can thank his Tacoma team too for a remarkable primary win in a county that would have gone to McKenna elsewise. Art Wang's leadership here in T-town was incredible, and Jay Inslee owes him a major debt of gratitude. By proving early on that Inslee was viable enough to win conservative Pierce County over during a primary with low voter turn-out, Art Wang established Inslee as a candidate that was worth voting for, a real winner.

So yes, I get that everyone up there hates us down in Pierce. but electoral college or no, you need us. And it wouldn't kill you to show a little love for this gritty soot-covered jewel once in a while.
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on November 14, 2012 at 7:41 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 8
History lesson:

The electoral college was first formed in the opening days of this country because they didn't hold national elections. State legislatures picked the electors (or were the electors themselves). Then they simply chose the president without bothering with any sort of election at all. The second place winner became the VP.

So there was actually some logic and purpose to the electoral college system, at least at the time it was set up. Why they continue this goofy arrangement to this day is considerably less logical.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on November 14, 2012 at 7:36 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 7

Or just be honest about it, and let international law and the UN have jurisdiction, like the wastes of Antarctica or the high seas.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on November 14, 2012 at 6:28 PM · Report this
Fnarf 6
Can't we just shut down counties like Garfield and Columbia? Nobody lives there, and what little population they have is fleeing rapidly. County government is the only employer. These are not sustainable entities. They serve no purpose. Fold them into one big county; it still wouldn't have very many people in it.
Posted by Fnarf on November 14, 2012 at 5:47 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 5
Nicely done?

This is meaningless bullshit. The campaigns naturally know ahead of time how the state electoral votes will be counted, they would change the way they campaign accordingly. Nobody would have run a statewide campaign under such as system, so you can't take the vote count from a statewide system and shoehorn it into an electoral vote system and then pretend it means doodly squat.

Inslee would have gone to the counties he needed to win to get out the vote necessary to win. McKenna would have tried the same thing, but as Romney just proved, it's not so easy to do that when your party, one, is selling what the people ain't buying, and two, lives outside the reality-based community and refuses to accept the facts on the ground that clash with their ideology.

We just watched Obama prove what happens when you understand how to play this game, and Romney prove what happens when you haven't got a clue how to read the polls or do simple arithmetic.

And don't tell me McKenna is smarter than that; if he was so smart he would have known that Obamacare is obviously constitutional and obviously good for the voters of Washington.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on November 14, 2012 at 5:26 PM · Report this
McKenna for losing Republican Presidential candidate!
Posted by MikeBoyScout on November 14, 2012 at 5:18 PM · Report this
pfffter 3
Interesting masturbatory exercise you've got going on there.
Posted by pfffter on November 14, 2012 at 4:46 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 2
The important difference being that the president presides over a union of states, whereas counties are chartered by the state of which they are a part.

Interesting, though.
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on November 14, 2012 at 4:42 PM · Report this
Nicely done.

This highlights the fact that, under an electoral college system, one person OR one large expanse of sagebrush equals one vote.
Posted by Moag on November 14, 2012 at 4:38 PM · Report this

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