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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Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.