America’s Failures at Democracy

In a recent interview, former President Obama said that American democracy “is imperfect, but changing that is going to take a lot of effort.”

In the interview, Obama spoke about the fact that the United States doesn’t have a “one person one vote” system. He mentioned Puerto Rico statehood in the context of voting rights.

The disenfranchisement of Puerto Rico would end with statehood, but Obama pointed out that even in the states, some people’s votes have more power than others.

One example Obama gave is that Electoral College electors in the state of Wyoming represent approximately 188,000 voters, while electors in California each represent 677,345 voters. This is about 3.6 times as many voters, giving voters in Wyoming nearly 3.6 times the influence or voting power of California voters.

The table below shows the figures for each of the states. A resident of Wyoming has, as you can see, 3.56 times the voting power as a resident of New York State.

 

State Population Voters Per Electoral Vote Electoral Votes Wyoming Has X Times the Voting Power
California 37,000,000 677,345 55 3.61
New York 19,400,000 668,210 29 3.56
Texas 25,000,000 661,725 38 3.52
Florida 18,800,000 648,321 29 3.45
Illinois 12,800,000 641,532 20 3.41
Ohio 11,500,000 640,917 18 3.41
North Carolina 9,500,000 635,699 15 3.38
Pennsylvania 12,700,000 635,119 20 3.38
New Jersey 8,800,000 627,992 14 3.34
Michigan 9,900,000 617,728 16 3.29
Virginia 8,000,000 615,463 13 3.28
Georgia 9,700,000 605,478 16 3.22
Missouri 6,000,000 598,893 10 3.19
Massachusetts 6,500,000 595,239 11 3.17
Indiana 6,500,000 589,437 11 3.14
Arizona 6,400,000 581,092 11 3.09
Maryland 5,800,000 577,355 10 3.07
Tennessee 6,300,000 576,919 11 3.07
Wisconsin 5,700,000 568,699 10 3.03
Louisiana 4,500,000 566,672 8 3.02
Washington 6,700,000 560,378 12 2.98
Colorado 5,000,000 558,800 9 2.97
Oregon 3,800,000 547,296 7 2.91
Kentucky 4,300,000 542,421 8 2.89
Oklahoma 3,800,000 535,907 7 2.85
Alabama 4,800,000 531,082 9 2.83
Minnesota 5,300,000 530,393 10 2.82
South Carolina 4,600,000 513,929 9 2.74
Connecticut 3,600,000 510,585 7 2.72
Iowa 3,000,000 507,726 6 2.70
Mississippi 3,000,000 494,550 6 2.63
Arkansas 2,900,000 485,986 6 2.59
Kansas 2,900,000 475,520 6 2.53
Utah 2,800,000 460,648 6 2.45
Nevada 2,700,000 450,092 6 2.40
New Mexico 2,100,000 411,836 5 2.19
Idaho 1,600,000 391,896 4 2.09
West Virginia 1,900,000 370,599 5 1.97
Nebraska 1,800,000 365,268 5 1.94
Hawaii 1,400,000 340,075 4 1.81
Maine 1,300,000 332,090 4 1.77
Montana 1,000,000 329,805 3 1.76
New Hampshire 1,300,000 329,118 4 1.75
Delaware 897,934 299,311 3 1.59
South Dakota 814,180 271,393 3 1.44
Rhode Island 1,000,000 263,142 4 1.40
Alaska 710,231 236,744 3 1.26
North Dakota 672,591 224,197 3 1.19
Vermont 625,741 208,580 3 1.11
District of Columbia 601,723 200,574 3 1.07
Wyoming 563,626 187,875 3 N/A

Data compiled from TheStreet.com – “How Much Voting Power Do You Really Have in Your State?” – June 2, 2020

The power of the electoral college

This imbalance is based on the fact that voters in the United States don’t vote directly for the president. Instead, each state votes for Electors. These individuals gather for the Electoral College vote in December and place their votes for the president. It is these votes, not the votes cast on Election Day, that determine who becomes President of the United States.

Five times so far this process has led to a president who was not the most popular candidate.

  • Election of 1824: Candidate Andrew Jackson received 152,901 popular votes compared to Candidate John Quincy Adams’s 114,023 votes. Jackson only received 99 Electoral College returns, while Adams received 84, neither achieving a necessary majority. The House of Representatives met to select the President, and Adams emerged as the winner with a one-vote margin.
  • Election of 1876: While exact vote totals vary, Democrat Samuel Tilden received approximately 250,000 more votes than Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. An electoral commission was established to settle “disputed votes,” and the commission voted 8 to 7 in favor of Hayes on all disputes. Hayes was declared the winner.
  • Election of 1888: While exact vote totals vary, incumbent Grover Cleveland received approximately 90,000 more votes, 48.6 percent to 47.9 percent, than his opponent Benjamin Harrison, but lost in the Electoral College. Harrison won 233 electoral votes compared to Cleveland’s 168.
  • Election of 2000: George W. Bush won an Electoral College victory 271-266, although his opponent Al Gore won approximately 500,000 more popular votes. Specifically, Gore received 50,999,897 votes while Bush received 50,456,002.
  • Election of 2016: President Donald Trump won an Electoral College victory of 306 – 232. Candidate Hillary Clinton, however, won the popular vote by nearly 3,000,000 ballots. Clinton received 65,853,514 votes compared to Trump’s 62,948,828.

The unrepresentative Senate

The uneven power of votes in more and less populous States affects the significance of U.S. citizens’ votes in presidential elections. There is also a big difference in the States’ representation in the Senate.

Just as the Electoral College was designed to keep big states from having much more power than small states, the Senate gives two seats to each state, no matter how many people live in each state. Less populated states currently have two things in common:

  • They are more likely to be Republican. That was not the case a century ago, but it is true now. Gerrymandering is one reason for this.
  • They are less likely to be racially diverse. For example, Wyoming, where voters have more than three times the voting power of Californians, has 92.5% white residents. 37% of Californians are white.

The Republican “majority” in the current Senate represents 15 million fewer Americans, 153 million to 168 million, than the Democratic Senate “minority.” In the 115th Congress, the Democratic “minority” represented almost 40 million more people than the Republican “majority.”

The Senate therefore represents Republicans far more than Democrats…even though the number of Democrats represented is so much larger than the number of Republican voters represented.

The Senate is also much less diverse than the United States as a whole. Pew Research calculated that 61% of Americans are non-Hispanic whites — but 91% of U.S. Senators fall into this category.

“We have to have an increase in awareness and activism.”

Obama suggested in his interview that the undemocratic overrepresentation of certain groups of voters in the government is a problem to save. His solution: greater awareness and activism.

One Comment

generoman

Why didn’t Obama speak out about Puerto Rico and D.C.’s status while in office? David Broder called him a “one trick pony” because beyond his public speaking skills he lacked serious political cojones.

If you read David Mendell’s biography of Obama, you will discover his gifts and his inflated sense of self, narcissism, grandiosity and impatience.

I never drank the kool aid that was mixed by his public relations people and pals in the media (David Remnick of the New Yorker).

God bless his wife Michelle. She’s definitely got his number.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.