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US voting systems bears little resemblance to NZ

Oct 31st, 2012 | By | Category: Editor's Picks, Latest News, News

By Regan Roberts and Jean Eltringham 

New Zealanders could be forgiven for not understanding US voting systems.

Unlike New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP), where New Zealanders vote separately for their chosen party and a local candidate, America uses the Electoral College system.

The Electoral College is essentially the 538 votes that determines who will win the presidency, with a candidate needing over half of these votes (270) in order to win.

The candidates compete for a majority of the votes in each state on a winner-take-all basis.

This means that winning a state with 50.01% gives the candidate all the Electoral College votes for that state.

That make ‘swing states’ such as Ohio – which historically have swung between Democrat and Republican- crucial to a candidate’s chances of winning the Electoral College.

As a result candidates President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, above,  spend a lot of time and money trying to convince eligible voters in these states to vote for them, often ignoring ‘safe’ or unwinnable states.

A CNN analysis of states visited in the run-up to the 2008 Presidential Election shows that the most visited states were the battleground states.

The same trend can be seen in this campaign, with Ohio hosting the same number of campaign events, 34, as the 30 smallest states combined, according to, an organisation that monitors voting trends.

The website also stated that nearly two-thirds of all states did not see a major party presidential or vice-presidential nominee even once in the peak seasons of the 2008 or 2012 campaigns.

Ad spending in the last election also focussed heavily on the swing states, with over half of all spending in the final six weeks going to Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia.

The other main difference between the New Zealand and American systems is the way in which votes are counted.

A party vote in New Zealand is equal, no matter where the voter lives in the country, whereas in the USA the value of a persons vote depends on which state they live in.

Each state starts out with three Electoral College votes, with the rest being dispersed in proportion to its population.

According to the New York Times website, one vote in Wyoming is worth three votes in California because Wyoming has a much smaller population (about 570,000).

If votes were dispensed evenly, Wyoming would only receive one Electoral College vote, instead of the three it currently gets.

On the other hand, California would receive 66 votes, instead of the 55 it currently receives.

This disparity between the values of votes in each state has meant that the Electoral College system has been criticised as not being representative ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’.


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