Wha? Is Wyoming really that important?

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times which points out that your vote means more in some states than others.

In Wyoming, about 135,000 voters pick each electoral vote, while in Florida, each vote is picked by a much larger group: 480,000 voters. That means your presidential vote in Wyoming means three times as much as it does in Florida.

But the accompanying map to illustrate the point is horribly misleading.

Wyoming is absolutely enormous — much more than three times larger than Florida:

Maybe it’s three times wider, but that makes its area at least nine times greater than Florida’s, vastly overstating the importance of a vote in Wyoming. This crude resizing shows how the two states should actually appear, given the relative importance of a vote in each state:

Not so impressive any more, is it?

Sure, the electoral college system gives disproportionate weight to individual votes in low-population states, but the overall map isn’t as distorted as the Times article appears. And let’s not forget that Florida has many more electoral votes than Wyoming, so that while an individual vote has more weight in Wyoming, the overall impact of Florida is much greater. How about we resize the states to take that into account too?

Wyoming voters are further marginalized in this election because the polls aren’t even close in their state. One vote either way isn’t going to change the fact that McCain has an unsurmountable lead in Wyoming. In that sense, you could say Florida’s votes are even more significant relative to Wyoming’s. I’d resize Wyoming to account for that, but my pixels aren’t small enough.

That’s the real flaw in the electoral college system: depending on what state you happen to live in and how close the vote is expected to be in your state, your individual vote can mean much more or much less than it does in other states — and that difference is much greater than the factor of three lamented in the NY Times. This graph (from fivethirtyeight.com) does a much better job estimating the significance of an individual vote on a state-by-state basis:

Florida is vastly more important than Wyoming, which sinks into a pool of insignificance in the lower-left of this graph.

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