Monday, November 03, 2008

One person, one vote? Think again

The Electoral College allocates votes based upon a state’s congressional delegation. But while there is a wide range of populations among states each state is guaranteed two Senators regardless of population and is guaranteed at least on Representative regardless of population. Therefore, voters in tiny states exert a disproportionate influence when they vote. And then consider that congressional districts (that equal one Electoral College vote) are drawn to represent the entire population, not voters. The bottom line is when the Electoral College represents the will of the voters, it is more by coincidence than by design.

This is by Sarah K. Cowan,Stephen Doyle and Drew Heffron in yesterday's New York Times:

“THE conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing — one person, one vote,” the Supreme Court ruled almost a half-century ago. Yet the framers of the Constitution made this aspiration impossible, then and now.

Under the Constitution, electoral votes are apportioned to states according to the total number of senators and representatives from each state. So even the smallest states, regardless of their population, get at least three electoral votes.

But there is a second, less obvious distortion to the “one person, one vote” principle. Seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned according to the number of residents in a given state, not the number of eligible voters. And many residents — children, noncitizens and, in many states, prisoners and felons — do not have the right to vote.

In House races, 10 eligible voters in California, a state with many residents who cannot vote, represent 16 people in the voting booth. In New York and New Jersey, 10 enfranchised residents stand for themselves and five others. (And given that only 60 percent of eligible voters turn out at the polls, the actual figures are even starker.) Of all the states, Vermont comes the closest to the one person, one vote standard. Ten Vermont residents represent 12 people.

In the Electoral College, the combined effect of these two distortions is a mockery of the principle of “one person, one vote.” While each of Florida’s 27 electoral delegates represents almost 480,000 eligible voters, each of the three delegates from Wyoming represents only 135,000 eligible voters. That makes a voter casting a presidential ballot in Wyoming three and a half times more influential than a voter in Florida.

This system, along with the winner-take-all practice used to allocate most states’ electoral votes, creates the potential for an absurd outcome. In the unlikely event that all 213 million eligible voters cast ballots, either John McCain or Barack Obama could win enough states to capture the White House with only 47.8 million strategically located votes. The presidency could be won with just 22 percent of the electorate’s support, only 16 percent of the entire population’s.

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