You could swing the presidential election by moving a single county between states

Let's take a look at what you could have won. Image: Getty.

There's a fascinating Washington Post article doing the rounds at the moment, which shows that – by two US state boundaries were in very slightly different places, moves so tiny that you’d barely spot them on the map – then Hillary Clinton would be president elect right now.

Thanks to the vagaries of the electoral college system, not a single vote would have had to change hands. Move four counties between states, and Clinton would have won Florida and Wisconsin, giving her 271 electoral votes, to Donald Trump's 269. The world right now would feel like a very different place.

This got me wondering, though – could we go further than this? Could we swing the election by moving just one county?

This is Los Angeles county, California. It's home to over 10m people, making it larger than 40 individual US states.

It's also – being urban, coastal and Californian – not very friendly to Donald Trump. He won just 23.4 per cent of the vote there – around 620,000 votes. Clinton won 71.4 per cent, or 1.9m votes, giving her an edge of just under 1.3m votes.

The state-wide result was closer, but not much closer. Clinton got 7.4m votes, or 61.6 per cent; Trump got 3.9m votes, or 32.8 per cent. All of which means you can remove Los Angeles county from California, and Clinton would still win the state.

So the question is – is there a state where the margin was less than 1.3m votes, and which has enough electoral college votes to flip the election?

In Texas, Donald Trump beat Clinton by 52.6 per cent to 43.4 per cent, handing him the state's 38 electoral college votes. This wasn't a surprise – no Democrat has won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The surprise, if anything, was that the margin was under 10 per cent.

But to get that result, Trump only needed to win around 814,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton: 4.7m to 3.9m. That, you’ll notice, is a smaller margin than the one by which Clinton won LA.

And so, if Los Angeles county was a part of Texas, Hillary would have won the state's electoral college votes. In that alternative reality, of course, Texas would carry more than its current 38 electoral college votes, and California less than its 55. But the exact distribution doesn't matter: the point is, Clinton would have won all those votes.

She'd have hit the magic number of 270 and won the election.


Okay, so this is silly on a number of levels. It's silly because Los Angeles very obviously isn't in Texas: it’s three states and 700 miles away, and about as different a culture as one can imagine within a single country. It's silly, too, because in this parallel universe I've just invented, the campaigns would have made different choices about how they fought the election. A Republican party that couldn’t win Texas would be a very different Republican party. The whole election would have played out differently.

But it goes to show quite how silly the entire electoral college system itself is, too. Move two state boundaries slightly – even shift a single county from one state to another – and without a single voter changing their mind you get the exact opposite result. In an election that wasn’t even that close.

We've often noted that the exact location of political boundaries can have weird effects on our cities. But it's rare those effects are quite as significant as this.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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