The Better Electoral College Reform: DC Statehood

Josh Kraushaar reminds us that an Electoral College tie is entirely plausible:

That would happen if Obama carried all the Kerry states except New Hampshire (where he’s struggling), and added New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia to his column. The Republican nominee would carry the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Nevada, and North Carolina.

I’m not much for Electoral College reform…the current system has it’s weaknesses, but any system will have weaknesses, and overall there are a lot of better places for reformers to devote their energies, in my view.

However, it’s a good excuse to point out that the easiest way to eliminate this particular problem (and, yes, I think the threat of a tie throwing it into the House is a problem) would be to admit Washington DC as the 51st state. The math is a bit tricky, but it works: Assume that the House remains the same size. In that case, one state would lose a Member of Congress and an electoral vote. However, New Columbia would have the same number of electoral votes then as it does now (thanks to the 23rd Amendment). In other words, currently the Electoral College is 100 (for the Senate) + 435 (for the House) plus 3 (for the District) = 538; post-statehood, it would be 102 + 435 = 537.

Granted, this particular reform isn’t going to happen right now, since in addition to being absolutely justified as far as democracy goes it would also be a major win for the Democrats, who would pick up two virtually guaranteed Senate seats. And, no, I don’t have any idea why the Democrats didn’t just move ahead with this in 2009 when they had large majorities in Congress. But merits and politics aside: hey, it solves the EC tie problem!

Technical note for those interested in DC statehood..The easiest way to achieve it is the “carveout” option, in which all the places in the District where people live are made into a state, and the Monuments and federal buildings that remain become the Constitutionally-mandated federal district. That could be done with ordinary legislation, and it’s hard to see a valid Constitutional challenge. However, the tricky part is that the 23rd Amendment gives the three electoral votes to the District, which would have no residents at all under this scheme. It does, however, allow Congress to enforce it through “appropriate legislation.” It’s not clear to me exactly how much of an obstacle that might be; could you just void the 23rd Amendment electoral votes if there are zero voters? Perhaps once statehood was a done deal, Republicans would agree to repeal the 23rd.

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.