Presidential Elections, Challenges of the Years

US Presidential Election Challenge Question

US Presidential Election Challenge Question

Assume that there are just two candidates and say half the population in each state votes. What is the fewest number of votes with which one could be elected president? What if there are three candidates?


Basically you need to win about half the votes in states with about half the electoral votes, or about 25 percent of the popular vote. Actually, since smaller states get more electoral votes per resident, you can win with 39 small states plus the District of Columbia and under 22 percent of the popular vote. So Dole could have won handily if he just could have redistributed his votes differently among the states. In 1884, Benjamin Harrison beat Grover Cleveland with fewer popular votes by winning lots of states by a few votes and losing the rest of the states big.

With three candidates, a different argument says you need less than 0.1 percent of the vote, just enough to win Wyoming. If your opponents each fail to win a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives decides among the top three electoral vote winners, including you, and if you can get the votes of 26 small-state delegations in the House, you are elected! In 1824, Andrew Jackson won in popular and electoral votes, but failed to get a majority, and the House elected John Quincy Adams.

Best answer awards go to Charles Bunch, Eric Brahinsky, Chuck Gahr, Bill Bond, and Bob Cohen.

Junior challenge

If you live for 6,000 years, how many days will that be?

New Year's challenge

According to our current calendar, on what day of the week will January 1 fall in the year 3000? In the year 1,000,000? In the year 101,000,000?

Send answers, comments, and new questions to:

Math Chat

Bronfman Science Center

Williams College

Williamstown, MA 01267

or by e-mail to:

The best submissions will receive a copy of the book "Flatland," which helps explain higher dimensional space.

The challenge question answer and winner will be announced in the next column in two weeks.

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