The Myth of One Person, One Vote
Every four years, Americans are encouraged and even guilted into the voting booths. It’s set up as a sacred ritual for which participation should count as an honor and a privilege.
The mainstream push for our pilgrimage to our designated shrines of democracy on November 8th (or earlier for the especially pious) is based on a faulty assumption. They say we all have one vote — no matter how rich, poor, tall, short, smart, or uninformed, we all get one vote. Elections are the great equalizer in that everybody is reduced to one.
Well, it’s not quite true. When it comes to US presidential elections, some votes have more influence than others. When you vote, you aren’t actually voting for president. You’re voting to encourage your state’s Electoral College members to vote a certain way. And if current forecasts hold, it looks like one candidate will win the popular vote even while another has won the electoral vote.
Each state has a different number of electors, based on the number of representatives they have in Congress, which is loosely based on population. Alabama has seven representatives in the House and two Senators, so Alabama has nine electors in the general election.
The problem is that this is only loosely related to a state’s population. California has over 65 times the population of Wyoming, but only 18 times the representation in the Electoral College.
We can take this ratio between electors and state population and compare the relative influence of one voter in one state to another voter in a different state with a different population and number of electors. Measured this way, a voter in Wyoming has over four times more influence on the electoral college vote than any voter in Texas.
So, US general elections are not “the great equalizer.” They are actually designed in such a way that voters in less populous states have more per-voter influence on Electoral College members than voters in more populous states because of the Apportionment Act of 1911. The act limited the size of the House of Representatives for the first time and kept it from growing with the population as Article 1 of the Constitution outlines.
Is the answer to this problem a more direct voting system based on the popular vote?
No. Even though all forms of democracy suffer from inherent problems, first-past-the-post style elections produce especially bad outcomes.
The solution to the problem is political decentralization, such that California (or even smaller areas within California) can have their own set of laws and leaders, and Wyoming (or smaller areas within Wyoming) can have their own set of laws and leaders.
With a nation as huge and varied and divided as the US, in terms of political ideology, culture, and norms, why should we expect everybody to be happy with a one-size-fits-all president and administration? Secession shouldn't be a scary-sounding term considering the political environment.
Jonathan Newman is Assistant Professor of Economics and Finance at Bryan College. He earned his PhD at Auburn University and is a Mises Institute Fellow.