Which States Have the Most Powerful Votes?

A partnership of Slate and the New America Foundation.
Nov. 2 2012 6:04 PM

How Powerful Is Your Vote?

When it comes to voting, not all states are created equal.

There are many reasons to dislike the Electoral College: It gives a handful of states the lion’s share of campaign attention; it allows a candidate with fewer votes to win; it depresses voter turnout in “safe” states; and it’s plain confusing. Now add this one: The electoral power of your vote depends on where you live.

The average electoral vote represents 436,000 people, but that number rises and falls per state depending on that state’s population over 18 years of age. (The map above shows the population 18 years and older per electoral vote by state.) The states with the fewest people per electoral vote, and therefore the highest “vote power,” are Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota. In Wyoming, there are 143,000 people for each of its three electoral votes. The states with the weakest votes are New York, Florida, and California. These states each have around 500,000 people for each electoral vote.

In other words, one Wyoming voter has roughly the same vote power as four New York voters. (Mouse over the map and it will show you where your state ranks in voting power.)

Electoral votes are allocated to the states each decade to reflect population shifts, but every state is guaranteed three electoral votes before allocation kicks in, leaving the least populous states with the most disproportionate number of electoral votes and improving their vote power. That’s why the five states with the most vote power have only three electoral votes.

A state’s vote power also depends on how close the state is to an additional electoral vote. The closer it is, the higher the population per electoral vote. Although the math behind apportionment minimizes this factor, it still results in situations like this: Minnesota has 22,000 more people than Colorado and one more electoral vote, while Wisconsin has 33,000 more people than Minnesota and the same number of electoral votes.

“Vote power,” in the sense used here, doesn’t entirely describe the probability that your individual vote can decisively influence the outcome of the presidential election. To determine that, you also need to know how tight the election is in your state and nationwide. Although a vote in Washington, D.C. is the third most powerful, for example, the probability it will change the outcome of the election is incredibly low.

In the aggregate, though, vote-power disparity does change outcomes, yielding elections, such as the 2000 election, in which the winner is not the one with the highest popular vote. And because the Electoral College mirrors the allocation of representatives in Congress, this map also charts legislative power; 143,000 people in Wyoming have the same number of legislators in Congress as 500,000 in New York.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.