Does your vote count? Mathematicians weigh in at AAAS Panel

Voters who don’t live in battleground states may not have that much voting power, but their states do.

Steven Brams, a professor in the department of politics at New York University said noncompetitive states do matter in elections because their electoral votes give a head start to candidates.

“The noncompetitive states have what we call “set-up power” – the power to tilt the election in favor of the leading candidate, who was Obama in 2012,” Brams said.

Using the Branzhaf Index, comparing the power of states and the power of voters, Brams found that in noncompetitive states, voters have no power. Voters only have power overs states in the competitive areas, areas where the states are vulnerable to swinging one way or the other.

“I happen to live in New York. New York is a sure-thing Democratic state,” Brams said. “I’m therefore powerless as a voter.”

That doesn’t mean that voters shouldn’t turn up for Election Day.

The noncompetitive states set up the landscape for an election and can give candidates a big leap ahead of their competitors. There were 110 electoral votes up for grabs in the competitive states, but the push from noncompetitive pushed Obama ahead.

“Even if the competitive states had split 55-55, Obama still would have won with 293 electoral votes,” Brams said. “He actually won with 332 because he had that advantage from the noncompetitive states.”

Brams believes that Branzhaf Index calls for a different system that puts more power into the hands of the voters. The index also shows that the battleground states with more electoral votes, such as Florida, gives voters more power.

“We can actually discuss whether this is really a violation of the fundamental doctrine embedded in the [equal] protection clause of the 14th Amendment,” Brams said.

Based on the index, voters in Florida had 1.8 times as much voting power in 2012 than in the voters from Iowa, a smaller competitive state per capita, which he sees as violation of one person, one vote.

“We might as well go to a popular vote if we want to make all voters equal,” Brams said. “The Branzhaf Index, in particular, shows how unequal voters are in different sized states. I think we should go to direct popular vote.”

As for 2016, it’s too early to use predict. However, Brams said that as America comes closer to election season, people will be able to figure out how the noncompetitive states will line up.

The next election could be determined by cycles, said Samuel Merrill, a professor in the department of mathematics at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Hesaid that elections in the U.S. tend to follow cycles of approximately 30 years, fluctuating between democrat and republican leadership. Fluctuation can also be a result of the party of the candidate in power. The country tends to shift political ideologies to oppose whatever president was in power.

“Voters may move away from the ideology of the candidate in power,” Merrill said. “They may not always be moving in a direction opposite of the party in power, but they are a lot of the time.”

For more stories about AAAS, click here.


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