Which states have the most say in elections? It depends on how you count.


Alina Snopkowski, Editor

With the talk about Washington, D.C. possibly becoming its own state, conversations have arisen about D.C., which traditionally votes strongly Democratic, gaining its own senators and representatives. “Taxation without representation” (or, in some cases, “end taxation without representation”) is the slogan on D.C. license plates, and a reason often given for why D.C. should have representatives in Congress. But with a population greater than only Vermont and Wyoming, D.C.’s representation in congress, which would almost certainly mean two more Democratic senators and an additional Democratic representative, means many Republicans are opposed to the plan.

Writer’s note: There would still be 435 representatives, but D.C. would get one, which means another state would lose one of theirs. To be honest, I’m not sure how they calculate that, and it’s not really the point of this article, so I’m not going to go into it here.

But how valid are these claims, anyway? And are there states that are better off than D.C. in terms of how many votes they get compared to the size of their population? I was curious.

So, using the 2019 state population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent numbers available) and some Excel tables, I determined which states get the most “bang for their buck,” so to speak, in terms of how much of their population is represented by a single representative in the House of Representatives and electoral vote in presidential elections. Here’s what I found.

How many people are represented by one electoral vote?

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

Here, I divided the state’s total population by the number of electoral votes that state (and D.C.) gets. I used the total population, not the voting-age or voting-eligible population. Oftentimes the claim arises that the electoral college favors the states with smaller populations and gives them more than their ‘fair share’ of electoral votes, which appears to be pretty true — large states such as California and Texas have over 700,000 people to each electoral vote, while Wyoming has less than 200,000 — but, as shown in the map above, some states are certainly ‘better off’ under this system than others.

Which states are above and below average for representation per electoral vote?

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

By dividing the country’s total population by 538, the total number of electoral votes, I got the average amount of people that one electoral vote would represent if these votes were allocated based on that system (if you’re curious, it comes out to about 610,000 people per electoral vote). The above map shows which states are currently above and below that average.

In 2020, which party got more votes than they ‘should have?’

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

Here’s where it gets interesting. To find the numbers for this map, I divided the state’s total population by the average-per-vote number I found earlier (the ~610,000). By subtracting the state’s actual number of allocated electoral votes from that new number, I was able to see how many votes each state would get if they were divided up this way. Using this system, each state would get at least one vote (we’d have to round up just a little bit for Wyoming, since the state’s population is less than 610,000), and some would get many more — Texas and California would both gain ten votes, bringing their totals from 38 to 48 and 55 to 65, respectively.

The above map compares the current system for dividing electoral votes with the division system I used and breaks down which states, by party, received more or fewer electoral votes in the real 2020 election than they would have using the other system. For example, in the current system of allocating electoral votes, Pennsylvania gets 20. If these votes were divided up using the ~610,000 number, Pennsylvania would have roughly 21 electoral votes — a difference of one that, in 2020, would have gone to the Democrats. In Delaware the situation is opposite — the state currently has three electoral votes, but with the other calculations it would get two, which means the Democrats in 2020 got an ‘extra’ vote there.

When all these ‘extra’ and ‘missing’ votes are tallied up, states that voted Republican in 2020 had about 21 ‘extra’ votes and about 19 ‘missing’ ones. For states that voted Democrat in 2020, they were ‘missing’ about 20 and had about 18 ‘extra.’

Note about Nebraska and Maine: These states split their electoral votes instead of having a winner-take-all system, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that. Nebraska’s votes were 4 republican and 1 democrat and Maine’s were 3 Democrat and 1 Republican, and each state has one ‘extra’ vote, so I just factored Nebraska into the Republican count and Maine into the Democrat one).

How many people are represented by each state’s representatives in the House?

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

Last but not least, let’s go back to D.C. I did the math on this one in the same way as the first electoral college map: total population divided by number of representatives in the House. I found this one a little bit perplexing — Delaware and Montana are at the bottom of the list with the most people ‘sharing’ a representative, and, while Wyoming is, not surprisingly, again in the category with the fewest people to one representative, West Virginia, which also had a fairly low number of people to one electoral vote, but not that low, is also included at a similar level as Wyoming in this map. The state with the fewest people to each representative is actually Rhode Island, with about 530,000 people sharing a representative. Montana, at the opposite end, has a whopping 1,068,778 people for their sole representative.

Where does D.C. fall into all of this? If D.C. got one representative, the district’s population of about 706,000 would all be represented by that single person — putting it in twelfth place overall when states are ranked by the fewest-to-highest number of people accounted for by their representatives.

So, what’s the point of all of this information? Really, I just like math and maps and was curious about how the states compare to each other. I’m not a political scientist and I’m not suggesting we change the current electoral college allocation system to the one I used for my calculations, but I do think it’s interesting to think about.

Writer’s note: If you’re interested in any of my numbers and whatnot, email me and I’ll send you the Excel spreadsheet.

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