“One Man/One Vote” Does Not Mean All Votes Are Equal

Posted on February 14, 2013


In a pure democracy, all legally qualified to vote get one vote. Every voter’s vote counts the same as every other voters’ vote. Democracy is often described as the tyranny of the majority over the minority. America’s founders were well aware of that, which is why America is not a democracy; but a republic. The founders, for example, provided for two houses of congress with one, the House of Representatives,  having proportionate representation based on the population of the states and the other, the Senate, having two for each state regardless of population. The idea originally was the members of the House represented the people and the members of the Senate represented the states. The states, after all, were joining in a union to form a federal government for the nation and what might be good for a state or a few states might not be good for the nation.

In general, the states, seeing how the federal government was organized, copied that concept in their state legislature. A state’s legislature would have a lower house, where the members represented districts of about the same population, and an upper house, where each county had the equal representation. In other words, each state was a republic in the same sense that the federal government was a republic.

In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled, in the case, Reynolds v. Sims,  that state legislature districts had to be roughly equal in population. The Court applied the principle of one man, one vote and thereby, the states became democracies. Ironically, the Courts decision has resulted in many Americans, in rural areas, being under represented in their states.

James Huffman, writing for the Hoover Institute, explains how one man, one vote has disenfranchised rural America. He uses three map depictions of the United States to make his case. Figure 1 is the familiar electoral map following the last presidential election. (I don’t know why Florida is not colored blue.) Although 26 states voted Blue and 24 voted Red,  Mr. Huffman points out “that, geographically speaking, more of the country is red than blue.”

Figure 1

  The Disenfranchisement of Rural America by James Huffman

However, Barack Obama won the election by a wide margin in the Electoral College. The reason is clear when the electoral map is distorted to reflect population, as you can see in Figure 2.

Figure 2

 The Disenfranchisement of Rural America by James Huffman

Huffman explains that things look very different if the same Red and Blue are used to reflect the US by counties.

But a third map (Figure 3) showing the nation’s 3,035 counties in the same color scheme reveals that portraying states as either blue or red obscures much of what we might want to know about the states and the voters who inhabit them. On this map, we see that most of the blue states are in fact mostly red. The reality of vast expanses of red in some of the bluest of states should concern us if we truly care about self-governance.

Figure 3

  The Disenfranchisement of Rural America by James Huffman

These three maps tell a damning story for conservatives. Geographically, we may occupy most of each state and the nation, but the Democrats control the high density population centers. Think about states like Nevada, where the legislature is controlled by one county in the south where Las Vegas is, or Illinois where the legislature is controlled by the metropolitan are of Chicago. The state of Alaska is controlled by Fairbanks and the people of west Texas are at the mercy fo Texans in the Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth.

And, at the national level, ask yourself: Do your Congressmen and Senators represent your state and you or do they only represent the metropolitan areas of your state? Does the concept of one man, one vote give you equal representation?

In Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court ruled that, although States are sovereign, cities and counties are not. They effectively said that a rural voter does not count as much as a city voter. Mr. Huffman stated my feelings quite well when he said:

Democratic government at its best must be about more than the arithmetic of nose counting. Communities require representation if they are to survive in an ever more centralized world. Not the political interest groups we now call communities, but the real communities in which people raise their children, pursue their livelihoods, and nourish their friendships. These are the communities people call home, and they are slowly decaying with the loss of control over their own destinies.

Can you see, dear friends, that the last vestige of a “republic” that we have, the electoral college, will some day be voted  away by those in cities. America will become a democracy and the mob will rule.

Well, now you know what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

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Posted in: One Man/One vote