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Not all votes are created equal. Some votes carry more weight than others simply because of the somewhat complicated way our voting system is organized. Members of Congress are elected by direct popular vote. But the president is chosen by the Electoral College, a group selected by voters when they cast a ballot for the commander-in-chief.
In a presidential election, voter power varies widely by state. While all votes are theoretically counted equally — one person, one vote — the choices of swing-state citizens are more influential. It’s safe to assume that Alabama will vote Republican and California will vote Democratic in the upcoming election. In contrast, the electoral results of swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan are up in the air, giving their voters more impact.
The same principle applies to voter power in the Senate. For example, it’s extremely likely that a Republican senator from Kentucky and a Democratic senator from Delaware will both be re-elected. But voters’ choices for senators in swing states hold much more power because they determine which political party controls the Senate.
So which states will decide the outcome of the upcoming election? As American voters head to the polls on Nov. 3 to elect the next leader of the free world as well as new senators in certain states, WalletHub compared the relative influence of voters in both the presidential and Senate races. In order to make such a comparison, we calculated a Voter Power Score for each state and for each type of election.
“I would not evaluate the design of the Senate in terms of “fairness.” The goal was to provide equal representation to the states. The Senate does indeed treat all states equally. Based on what the intentions were, yes, the Senate is “fair” in that no state receives special treatment”, says Zack Scott Ph.D. – Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science – Bryn Mawr College
“The real question is if it is harmfully undemocratic to have such unequal distribution of political representation across the population. It is clearly undemocratic. The format of the Senate provides more political power to residents of small states than big states. In a democracy, all citizens are supposed to be afforded equal opportunities to engage meaningfully with the political system. The Senate obstructs that. The extent to which it is harmful has to do with how preferences are distributed across those states. If the citizens (and, consequently, their Senators) of the small states want different things than the citizens of the big states then the popular will is being thwarted, which is politically harmful. In modern American politics, it does seem that preferences are not equally distributed, which means the 2-per-state format of the Senate is leading to outcomes of policy that do not meet with what the voting public wants,” he continued
“Gerrymandering has produced polarized House districts that have led to non-representation of those in the minority party. When a state legislature redistricts to benefit their party, it reduces the voting power of the minority party in the state. So what does this say about governance? It says that this increased polarization has led to an inability to compromise. Districts are gerrymandered to support 55% of more of a party’s voters. Thus, the majority party wins the district. The House member does not need to compromise on legislation to win over the few percentages he/she would need to be re-elected in a 49%-51% or so district. This inability or unwillingness to compromise has been fatal to recent legislative action”, says Shirley Anne WarshawPh.D. – Professor, Department of Political Science; Director, Fielding Center for Presidential Leadership Study – Gettysburg College.
“We must control the influence of money and fundraising over both the electoral and policy-making processes. Until this is done, no other reforms will be effective. Given the Supreme Court’s rulings on the modest efforts made to date to reform campaign financing and influence peddling (otherwise known as “lobbying”), the first step has to be a constitutional amendment authorizing such reform, said Peter S. KierstSenior Lecturer, Political Science – University of New Mexico
In order to determine the states with the most and least influential voters, WalletHub calculated the Voter Power Scores for both presidential and Senate elections in each state.
For presidential elections, we used the “win probabilities” calculated by fivethirtyeight.com and graded each state election on a 100-point scale, with 100 points being awarded to the states with literally a 50 percent chance of swinging either Red or Blue (50-50) and 0 points to the states with zero chance of one party determining the election (100-0).
We then multiplied the win probability score by the number of electors of a given state and divided the product by the state’s population aged 18 and older. Finally, we multiplied the result by 1,000,000 in order to calculate the Presidential Election Voter Power Score for that state.
We applied the same approach to calculate the Senate Election Voter Power Score for each state. In this case, however, we multiplied the win probability score by the number of Senate seats up for election in 2020 for a given state instead of its number of electors.
Our calculations are expressed in the following formulas:
Presidential Election Voter Power Score: [(Win Probability Score x Number of Electors) / Total Population Aged 18 & Older] x 1,000,000
Senate Election Voter Power Score: [(Win Probability Score x Number of Senators) / Total Population Aged 18 & Older] x 1,000,000
In our calculations, we counted only the population aged 18 or older to represent the electorate. However, we were not able to account for the limited number of state laws that allow the population aged 17 to vote and/or bar prisoners or felons from doing so.