Do Any States Split Their Electoral Votes? It's Not The Norm

As voters prepare to head to the polls, or cast their ballots early, we're reminded that it's actually electors who elect the president, not us. And, though their votes reflect ours, their results don't accurately reflect the national popular vote partly because states generally give all their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. For example, if a candidate wins a plurality of the vote with only 45 percent support in California, he or she gets all 55 of the state's electors. Are all states winner-take-all, or do some states split their electoral votes?

Two states split their electoral votes with what is called the district plan, Maine and Nebraska. The states adopted the district method in 1972 and 1992, respectively. Maine has two congressional districts, and Nebraska has three. The candidate who wins a congressional district wins that district's one electoral vote. The states' two additional electoral votes go to whoever wins the popular vote statewide.

Though it's been the law in these lands for decades, only one state has actually split its electoral votes, and it only happened once. In 2008, Barack Obama gained an electoral vote from Nebraska after winning one of its districts. Since John McCain won the two other districts and the popular vote in the state, he got the other four. In Maine, both congressional districts have tended to favor the same candidate.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

To many, the district plan seems a lot fairer than the winner-take-all plan, and in some ways, it is. In states with a clear ideological majority — say, Nebraska, where residents who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning exceed residents to the left by about 10 percent — opposing candidates stand to get nothing, and opposing voters likely don't see much of a point in showing up to the polls. With the congressional district method, the candidate stands a chance to walk away with something, and is, thus, more likely to pay attention to the state, while the voter has a clearer incentive to participate.

Though the district plan has its perks, and appears more representative of the popular vote than the winner-take-all plan, it isn't necessarily so. For example, if it had been implemented on a national level during the 2000 election, the Congressional Research Service reported that George W. Bush would have beaten Al Gore by a much larger margin, even though Bush received fewer popular votes. The reason: the number of people in each congressional district varies, while each gets one Electoral College vote. A discrepancy of some proportion between the popular vote and the electoral vote is, thus, inevitable.

David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Nebraska and Maine are the two rebel states eschewing the winner-take-all electoral vote system. The district plan they implement for splitting those votes has its pros and cons, but the states are sticking with them.