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News Link • Voting and Elections

The Deciders: The relative power of voters, depending on what state they live in.

• Carl Bialik, Wall Street Journal

My print column examines efforts by political scientists to estimate the relative power of voters to influence presidential elections, depending on what state they live in.

John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University Law School, began studying the question of voter power in response to a Supreme Court ruling, a half century ago, in Baker v. Carr. A divided high court ruled that federal courts may intervene to address districting that isn’t aligned with population. The ruling led to the question: Just how should districts’ voting power be allocated such that each individual voter has the same power?

His answer, building on earlier work by British mathematician Lionel Penrose, is that a fair allocation would be proportional to the square root of districts’ populations, rather than directly proportional to the populations. Banzhaf didn’t advocate weighting votes as such, but instead intended to point out that weighting voter power isn’t all that simple.
Part of the reason is that truly testing which voters have the best chance of swinging an election isn’t realistic. Tied races are very rare, too rare to say how likely they are in any given election, let alone a national one that occurs only every four years, giving little opportunity for testing.

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