The United States is a representative democracy, and in theory, everyone’s vote has the same weight.
But when it comes to electing presidents, minority votes are worth far less than white votes.
Unlike other democratic nations, the United States selects presidents through the electoral college.
The electoral college consists of 538 votes: 100 for senators, 435 for members of congress, and 3 for the District of Columbia. Each state designates delegates or electors who cast their state’s electoral votes in favor of the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state. Regardless of the popular vote outcome at the national level, the first presidential candidate past 270 electoral college votes wins the election.
Electoral College and Popular Vote
The electoral college tally and the popular vote generally coincide. In fact, they have only gone in opposite directions 5 times.
But two of those instances have come in the last 20 years.
In 2000, Al Gore beat George W. Bush in the popular vote by 540,520 votes, and in 2016, Hillary Clinton finished 2,809,197 votes ahead of Donald Trump. However, ultimately, Gore and Clinton both failed to get past 270 electoral college votes, and thus, they lost the presidency.
Our grade school textbooks teach us that the electoral college was designed to balance power between rural states and urban states. But this is a myth. In 1790, 95 percent of the US population resided in rural areas, and thus, balance between rural and urban states was hardly a priority.
But slavery was.
At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia representatives discussed a winner-takes all presidential model. But the South, where 36 percent of the population was enslaved, feared their residents would be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the North. This led to the three-fifths compromise, which increased Southern representation in Congress by allowing Southern states to count slaves as three-fifths of a citizen. A related compromise ensured that each state, regardless of population, would have two senators.
Today, the electoral college best explains why — despite national approval ratings well below 50 percent — Donald Trump is our president.
Favoring Rural, Conservative, and White Voters
The electoral college systematically favors rural, conservative, and white voters. And as a result, every four years a unique combination of predominantly white conservative swing states in rural America determine who our next president will be.
The value of votes cast in rural states is substantially greater than votes cast in more populated, urban states.
For example, in 2016 urban states had 590,081 residents for every one electoral college vote. In contrast, in rural states each electoral college vote corresponded to just 393,293 residents. Thus, in Wyoming — where 84 percent of residents are white — there are only 187,875 residents for every one electoral college vote. Whereas, in California — where 62 percent of residents are minorities — there are 677,344 residents per every electoral college vote.
In effect, if you were to move from Wyoming to California, your vote would lose 66 percent of its value in presidential elections.
Migration of Minorities
The racial imbalance in the electoral college is largely due to the massive migration of minorities out of rural America. In the 20th century minorities left the countryside in search of more progressive places where they could sit in the front of the bus, go to school, start a business, access loans, and vote.
The biggest shift of this nature was the Great Migration, which involved the exodus of millions of Black people from the South between 1916 and 1970. According to the US Census, in 1900, 90 percent of Black Americans lived in rural Southern states, but by 1970, less than 50 percent did.
African Americans where not the only minorities fleeing rural America. After centuries of encroachment and ethnic cleansing, Native Americans left for the city in search of more stable living conditions.
Similarly, after losing their land and being rounded up into internment camps during WWII, many Asian Americans resettled in urban settings. And Latino farmers and ranchers were forced to sell their land and head for the cities after enduring decades of discriminatory lending practices in rural communities across the Southwest.
The mass exodus of minorities out of rural America should have penalized rural states by reducing their share of electoral votes. But it didn’t because regardless of who resides in a state, each state has two senators. As a result, the migration of minorities out of rural America simply diluted the influence of minority voices in national politics by continuing to overvalue white conservative voices in rural states.
Today, with minority voices stacked in progressive urban states, the electoral college systematically undervalues Black, Latino, Native, and Asian votes. And thus, if Black and minority lives are ever to truly matter, the electoral college must go.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.