Back in July, a squirrelly little article by Pete Hamby went up at the CNN election center. Mr. Hamby, reasoning that the polls would be close come election day, put forth a scary scenario – that the 2012 election would be a tie in the electoral college, forcing the House of Representatives to pick the President. The ultimate winner, regardless of the final vote, would have no legitimacy, and would have to take office staring down the double barrels of a hostile population and massive cost overruns. Not a good combination.
Thankfully, after a little more digging, I learned that people like Mr. Hamby make these sort of predictions every year. HuffPo’s own Chris Weigant gave a fascinating take on the idea back in 2008. It just wouldn’t be election season without wacky hypotheticals, and I’ve dismissed the electoral college tie as one of them. But the possibility of a 269-269 deadlock did get me thinking about something else…
If you were running for president, exactly how few votes would you need to win office?
By law, you’d need at least 270 votes in the electoral college to become President. Getting the combined electors of 11 states will get you there; win CA, TX, FL, NY, PA, GA, OH, NC, NJ, MI, and IL, and you’ll win the White House.
Assuming you won those states and those states only (pure fantasy!), the electoral map would look something like this.
Of course, John Mellencamp will probably win an Oscar before this map becomes a reality, but let’s continue just for kicks.
Setting aside the possibility of a three- or four-way race, to win each state you’d still need 50%+1 of its votes. Based on the 2010 population numbers and the 2008 turnout rate, that number comes out to about 37,291,484 votes total. For all you non-math majors out there, that’s a meager 16% of the electorate – 12% of Americans overall!
What? I’m saying you could win only 16% of the votes in a two-way race and still become president?
Um… yeah. As long as everyone who votes for you lives in the right places.
Disregard the astronomical odds of both California and Texas voting together and focus on the main lesson here – we do not live in a democracy. In fact, I’d say it’s a good thing we don’t. Instead, we inhabit a Republic – a much safer for of government, in which we trust representatives to make decisions on our behalf. From FreeRepublic, “A democracy is the rule by majority feeling (what the Founders described as a ‘mobocracy’); a republic is rule by law.”
And the law says you need 270 electors to become president. If you only need 16% of the vote to get there… well, heck, you might even have a shot at getting elected after all!