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The Indiana Electoral College

What if governor's races played by presidential rules?

A few weeks ago, Bloomington Representative Matt Pierce unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to add Indiana to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. That’s the effort to circumvent the Electoral College by having states promise their electors to the national popular vote winner – once enough states have signed to give that winner the magic 270.

In making his case, Pierce challenged majority Republicans: “How would you like it if we elected the governor based on how many legislators each county had?”

Hmmmm.

For a ruby-red state, Indiana’s gubernatorial elections have been surprisingly close. Four of the last seven elections were decided by seven or fewer percentage points. Would an Indiana electoral college change anything?

On the current legislative map, the Pierce Postulate gives Indiana 390 electoral votes, ranging from 24 in Marion County to 19 counties with two. In 2012, John Gregg lost the closest race for governor in 52 years, falling to Mike Pence by just three percentage points. Eric Holcomb doubled that margin last year. But both races would have been electoral blowouts. Pence won all but 19 counties, and Holcomb peeled off five of those (including Pike County, which hadn’t backed a Republican since 1972). It adds up to a comfortable 275-115 electoral victory for Pence, and an even easier 296-94 win for Holcomb.

Mitch Daniels’ two elections were on maps with 409 “electoral votes,” but Democratic Governor Joe Kernan could only match Gregg’s 115 electoral votes against Daniels in 2004. (Four electoral votes, from Crawford and Switzerland Counties, go unassigned that year – in both, the candidates tied.) Evan Bayh’s 62% reelection win in 1992 is a Reagan-sized tsunami in the electoral vote; Linley Pearson won only Jasper County and his home county of Clinton for seven electoral votes.

The most interesting case, though, is Frank O’Bannon’s 1996 upset of then-Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith. Goldsmith’s internal polls had him preparing a victory speech – until the actual votes gave O’Bannon victory by five points, the closest margin since 1960 other than Pence’s win. On election night, analysts noted with shock that Goldsmith lost his home county of Marion – still a reliable Republican stronghold at that time.

As close as that race was, it was even closer at the local level. Almost without exception, Indiana's winning gubernatorial candidate sweeps most of the counties. That was true even before the current red-blue divide, with Democrats' clout concentrated in urban and university counties. But O'Bannon and Goldsmith split the map exactly evenly: 46 counties apiece.

With an electoral college, O'Bannon still would have won, but in even more stunning fashion. The even split of counties gives O’Bannon won the electoral vote 218-186. 19,000 more votes in Indy would have given Goldsmith 23 electoral votes – and made him a controversial victor.

Gov. Eric Holcomb (left) with his predecessor, Vice President Mike Pence. (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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