Your Vote’s Value Depends on Where You Live

“One man, one vote” was a popular political slogan in the 1880s. In the 1960s, updated to “One person, one vote” in recognition of woman suffrage, the slogan was used again to protest against apartheid and to tag a series of Supreme Court decisions about voting rights and apportionment of representatives in the legislature.

The phrase has never described the reality of voting in the United States. A new note from the Harvard Law Review makes this point with a proposal to fix the problem by admitting new states.

“Pack the Union: A Proposal to Admit New States for the Purpose of Amending the Constitution to Ensure Equal Representation” describes the Electoral College as “just one of the mathematically undemocratic features in the Constitution.”

“Equal representation of states in the Senate, for example, gives citizens of low-population states undue influence in Congress,” the author points out. “Conversely, American citizens residing in U.S. territories have no meaningful representation in Congress or the Electoral College.”

The note argues that this is patently unfair.  Just as it was unfair to exclude women and minorities from the franchise, so too is it unfair to weight votes differently. The 600,000 residents of Wyoming and the 40,000,000 residents of California should not be represented by the same number of senators. Nor should some citizens get to vote for President, while others do not.”

U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico — regardless of where they were born and whether they have ever registered to vote — cannot vote in presidential elections. They have no representation in the Senate and just one non-voting member in the House.

If Puerto Rico were a State, there would be approximately five voting representatives of the Island in the House and two in the Senate.

Effects on the territories

“Pack the Union” addresses the situation of the U.S. territories directly.

“The problem of unequal representation is especially severe for citizens of U.S. territories,” writes the author. “Such citizens pay payroll taxes but, with few exceptions, are not eligible for Supplemental Security Income. Nor are the territories reimbursed for Medicaid at the same rate as states. They also serve in the military at higher rates than the national average, and yet, per capita healthcare spending on veterans in the territories is much lower than the national average.”

Solution?

The author of the note proposes admitting a lot of new states: Puerto Rico, maybe other willing territories, and each of the neighborhoods of Washington D.C. except the actual home of the federal government. Acknowledging that this sounds like a radical proposal, the note argues that it isn’t as radical as it might seem. “It should not be a radical proposition for the Constitution to treat citizens’ votes equally,” the author says. “The United States was founded on the proposition that all are created equal.”

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