The Washington Post reports than Eleanor Holmes Norton’s plan to give Washington, D.C. a seat in the House of Representatives is gaining momentum. That’s good news for D.C. residents and opponents of “taxation without representation” everywhere… but the real story for political nerds is the one that Alec Oveis notes: because the plan calls for adding two new House seats (one from D.C. and one from Utah — which would have been “next in line” to gain a seat after the 2000 census), it would make the total number of electors in the Electoral College an odd number, thus eliminating the possibility of a 269-269 tie that would send a presidential election to the House (which would have happened with a shift of 18,776 votes in 3 states in 2004). Under the plan, D.C. would still get 3 electors (that’s enshrined in the Constitution), but the extra elector for Utah would mean a grand total of 539 electors, instead of 538.
Now, here’s a scenario to chew on: imagine that this plan passes, and the Electoral College is adjusted accordingly in time for the 2008 election. And then imagine that the Democrats take back the House in November, and hold onto it in 2008. And then imagine that in 2008, the Republican candidate wins by a margin of 270-269… with the new Utah elector casting the deciding vote. The GOP victory will be Eleanor Holmes Norton’s fault! If not for her plan’s passage, the election would have been 269-269, and the Democratic House would have elected the Democrat! But instead, the Republicans win, thanks to Norton’s gift to Utah! Heh.
P.S. Actually, it’s not quite as simple as “imagine that the Democrats take back the House.” In the event there is no Electoral College majority, the House votes by state delegation, not by member. So the Dems would need to take over a majority of state delegations in order to control the House voting in the event of a E.C. tie. Still, the fact remains that Norton’s plan, while not affecting the balance in the House, does effectively give the GOP a “free” presidential elector, since Utah isn’t going to vote Democratic anytime soon. :) On the other hand, it gives the Dems a +1 edge in House delegations, since D.C. is now a delegation for them, whereas Utah was Republican anyway. So, although the plan would make E.C. ties impossible, in the event of a three-way split in which nobody gets a majority, this could actually help the Dems. But now I’m officially giving this way too much thought. :)