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Why a Montanan’s Vote is Worth More Than Most

2008 voter map
Photo courtesy of oceandesetoiles/Flickr

Montanans often feel left out of the national political spotlight. In the year before the election, President Obama didn’t even try to campaign here and Mitt Romney only came on a short fundraising fly-by to Hamilton. It’s easy for many Montanans to wonder whether or not their vote even matters.

To add insult to injury, Montana is only worth 3 electoral votes. Only 3! Meanwhile, hulking California gets 55 votes. As America gathers to watch the electoral map light up in red and blue on Tuesday, no one will be waiting with bated breath to see what happens in Montana. In the race to 270 electoral votes, it’s easy to overlook the importance a measly 3 can play.

To help prove that a Montanan’s vote is worth more than the average American’s vote I will have to do some math. Please be patient while I throw out some numbers.

  • First, there are roughly 311,591, 917 people living in the United States in the year 2012
  • There are roughly 998,199 people living in Montana in 2012.
  • In a direct democracy Montana would only be worth 0.32% of the the vote (less than 1%)!

 

Luckily for Montana (and the rest of the U.S. in my opinion), America is not a direct democracy; it is a Constitutional Republic. The idea of representation is deeply embedded in American politics, and the electoral college is a prime example. Here’s the break down of how the votes at the electoral college are apportioned to the states.

  • There are 538 total votes available in the electoral college.
  • 100 of those votes are given to states based on the number of senators each state has (every state gets 2 senators. There are 50 states. Therefore 2 X 50 = 100).
  • 3 of those votes are given to Washington D.C. just because it’s special.
  • Finally, the rest of the 435 votes are given to each state based on the number of congresspeople they send to the U.S. House of Representatives. This number is based on population and varies wildly from state to state (for example Montana has 1 representative while California has 55).

 

Those 435 votes tend to work in the favor of small states because each state gets at least 1 despite the the population. This means that if a state has less than 716,303 people (like Wyoming for example) they receive a vote just for showing up. This doesn’t really effect Montana anymore, but I thought you might want to know.

In Montana’s favor is the fact that the number of Representatives was capped at 435 by the Reapportionment Act of 1929. This means that Montana’s 1 vote does not deteriorate in value as the whole population of the country goes up.

So, just by being a state, Montana is handed 2 electoral votes based on its senators. It also receives 1 vote based on its congressperson in the House of Representatives for a total of 3. Now, here’s where the fun math starts.

  • There are 311,591,917 people in the United States.
  • There are 538 Electoral College votes.
  • That means that an average vote represents 579,167 people.

 

Because of the way the votes are distributed though, some states get much better representation than others. Montana comes out very well in this system.

  • There are 998,199 people in Montana
  • There are 3 Electoral College votes in Montana
  • Each Electoral College vote represents 332,706 people

 

This is significantly better representation than most states. In mathematical terms if the influence of each persons vote were weighted with the theoretical average being 1, a Montana’s vote is worth 1.74. Nearly twice what an average American’s vote is worth. If you want to know how I did the math go here.

In comparison to California, Montana looks even better. Sure, California gets 55 votes, but each of those votes represents 685,308 people. That means that each Californian’s vote carries an influence of .84 or less than the national average. In other words, each Montanan has more the double the amount of representation and influence as a Californian.

 

 

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