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Electoral College denialism


Joe Biden is going to win the presidential election by around six million votes. He’s currently ahead by 4.43 million votes, with enough votes still to be counted in places like California, Illinois, and New York that the final margin is likely to reach the six million range, give or take.

I’ve noticed a lot of denialism in the comments here about how close the outcome of the election actually was, because of the insane perversity of the Electoral College. (ETA: A lot of “it wasn’t really that close in the end” type comments. I realize everyone agrees that the EC is terrible, my point here is that there’s a lot of denial about how close this year was to an even more epic disaster than 2016).

In 2016, it was a truth universally acknowledged that Trump won by drawing an inside straight in three very closely contested states, worth 46 electoral votes, that ended up swinging the election. They were:


20 Electoral Votes. Margin of victory: 46K


16 electoral votes. Margin of victory: 11K


10 electoral votes. Margin of victory: 23K

Total margin in these three states, containing 46 electoral votes: 80K

Meanwhile in 2020, it’s being said that the only reason the outcome looked so close was because of absentee ballots weren’t counted until after Tuesday night. If we had had the results immediately, as in 2016, the election wouldn’t have been considered close at all, as Biden is going to end up getting 306 electoral votes.

This happens to be exactly the same number that Trump got in 2016, but of course the swing states weren’t nearly as close in 2020:


20 electoral votes. Margin of victory: 45K


16 electoral votes. Margin of victory: 11K


11 electoral votes. Margin of victory: 17K

Total margin in these three states, containing 47 electoral votes: 73K

In Electoral College terms, it’s literally the same election! (These final vote totals might change slightly, but current estimates are that 98% to 99% of the vote has been recorded in these states. Biden’s margin might grow slightly in Pennsylvania and shrink a little in Arizona so uncounted votes in these states are probably close to a wash.)

If Trump drew an inside straight in 2016, then Biden drew one in 2020, with the massive difference between the two elections being that Trump lost the national vote by nearly three million, while Biden is going to win it by six million.

A nine million vote relative differential this year in the Democratic candidate’s favor produced exactly the same result in the Electoral College for the Democrat as the one that elected Donald Trump four years earlier.

Yes it’s true that this could change, if Democrats build on the Georgia victory by winning Sunbelt states such as Florida, Texas, and North Carolina by narrow margins. The Electoral College isn’t static by any means, but at present it features a massive built-in advantage for GOP presidential candidates. Even if it didn’t, it’s completely indefensible as a matter of principle, and nobody should be minimizing how close we came to a travesty this year that would have been literally more than twice as outrageous, statistically speaking, as the 2016 disgrace.

I don’t know if the National Popular Vote Compact can actually work as a practical matter, but amending the Constitution on this point is obviously impossible, so we better move forward on the assumption that it can, and work to make that happen, before somebody (let’s call her “Kamala Harris”) wins the popular vote by twelve million ballots, but mysteriously somehow still loses the presidency to inheritors of the Slave Power.

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