The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States

In a previous post, I argued that the Electoral College is unrepresentative, unfair and inaccurate. In another recent post, I argued that affirmative action has come a long way over the past forty years and has outlived its utility.

Today I highlight some common themes expressed in these posts by equating the Electoral College as a form of affirmative action for small states. Our country’s framers were tasked with convincing 13 disparate colonies to form a union. The main hurdle to the Federalist agenda was ensuring small states (eg: Delaware and Rhode Island) that they would not be overpowered by the larger states (eg: Virginia and Massachusetts).

The clearest way in which smaller states were given guarantees of their own limited sovereignty was in the equal representation among states in the US Senate. Although membership to the House of Representatives was agreed to be allocated by population, each state, whether small or large, gets two Senators. This means that today, Wyoming’s 570,000 people have the same Senate representation as California’s 38 million.

Giving small states more power may make sense in Congress, but not in quadrennial national elections.

This overrepresentation makes some sense in the Congress where laws are created. In the complicated mess that is the legislative process, state interests can be clearly defined and it can be difficult for smaller states to fight for their interests – yes, some forms of affirmative action are OK.

The election of the President, however, happens once every four years and can be far more transparent than drafting, debating and passing individual laws. There are no clear state interests in the presidential election as in Congress  – there is only the national interest. The point of representative democracy is to avoid the impractical complications of constant ballot initiatives. We vote every four year anyway – why not make it count? There is no reason why we should not vote as one country, with each vote carrying equal weight.

Since the ratification of our Constitution, there have been four instances of the Presidency going to the candidate who did not win a plurality of the vote (1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000). There is no excuse for this.

As the election approaches, most of the country is left numb, watching each candidate pander to as many people in Ohio as humanly possible. People who disagree with me have argued that it’s easy for me (a big state New Yorker) to want more representation. But I am not asking for more representation than anyone else – only equal representation.

This is yet another sign that our political parties and factions are ideologically inconsistent. Many people want the federal government out of our lives, except to tell gay people that they cannot marry. They oppose the redistribution of wealth, except when their states receive the lion’s share of federal money. They oppose affirmative action, except when their vote counts more than others. Regarding the latter, I repeat, I am not asking for more representation than anyone else – only equal representation.

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2 thoughts on “The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States

  1. “I am not asking for more representation than anyone else – only equal representation.”
    Are you saying you that you are as equal as the farmers?

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