Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the latest 2020 presidential candidate to suggest the elimination of the Electoral College vote, according to Business Insider. Buttigieg said he would propose a Constitutional Amendment to abolish it. The Electoral College often causes voting paradoxes in the United States.
Many presidential hopefuls for 2020 have voiced their support for abolishing the Electoral College, a representative system that determines the results of the election of the President of the United States. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren preceded Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in calling for doing away with the system in favor of a direct popular vote determining the presidency. The primary reason for this is because sometimes, the Electoral College makes a different decision regarding elections than the popular vote, resulting in what’s commonly known as a “voting paradox.” Let’s look at some examples and types of voting paradoxes.
Electoral College and Famous Presidential Voting Paradoxes
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica website, the results for the 2000 Presidential Election were as follows. Republican candidate George W. Bush received 50,456,002 votes. Democratic candidate Al Gore received 50,999,897 votes. By this qualification, Al Gore won the presidency by over a half a million votes—543,895, to be exact. However, George W. Bush won 271 votes from the Electoral College compared to Al Gore’s 266 and Bush became the 43rd President of the United States. This is one example of a voting paradox—in which the popular vote appears to have gone in one direction while the Electoral College vote went in another direction.
Similarly, in the 2016 election, Republican candidate Donald Trump received 62,979,636 votes. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton received 65,844,610 votes, for a total of 2,864,974 more votes than Donald Trump. Again, much like the 2000 election, the Electoral College went the other way, granting 304 votes to Donald Trump and 224 to Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States.
Politicians, pundits, and the public have debated for generations whether the Electoral College or the popular vote should determine the presidency. These two examples—of which there are several, dating as far back as the 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes—show that sometimes voting paradoxes occur on a national level.
The Condorcet Paradox
What happens if three people each cast a vote to decide where to eat dinner, but each of them votes for a different restaurant? Since nobody’s vote outweighs anyone else’s, there’s a deadlock. This conundrum is called The Condorcet Paradox. “This is named after 18th-century French mathematician Marquis de Condorcet,” said Dr. David Kung, Professor of Mathematics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “Then you go on and on and on. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes, you have these cycles.” In this instance, everyone may offer their second choice out of the three, which may help break the tie.
Politically speaking, with narrow races, runoff elections can resolve similar issues. “After an initial vote, where each voter gets to vote for their top choice, then the last candidate, or maybe all but the top two, are dropped, and the remaining candidates compete in a runoff,” Dr. Kung said.
Resolving issues like three-way ties and balances of power are never simple. Voting paradoxes present themselves quite often. Should the United States rid itself of the Electoral College, it would do away with one paradox but it may invite other complications in future elections.
Dr. David Kung contributed to this article. Dr. Kung is Professor of Mathematics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He earned his B.A. in Mathematics and Physics and his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.