What happend to one man one vote?

Hi you Amerivan dopers,

From someone living in a very proportional representation based political system, what do you think of the Electoral College and the Senate?

To clarify, every state has two senators in the senate, while the size of states differ greatly (California 36 million, Alaska 350 thousand). Doesn’t this effectively mean that a vote in Alaska carries much more weight than a vote in California? I guess this system has a lot to do with the relative independency of the individual states (and the will to keep this in place), but I’d still like to hear what you think.

What the electoral college is concerned, I can imagine how this system was initially introduced because of practical issues (we can’t send everybody to Washington to vote, so let’s send some representatives to choose the president), but isn’t this obsolete know. Since you are all choosing one person (president) shouldn’t the votes just be accumulated, with the most popular winning?

Many of us have been saying this for years. You may be interested in this:

The electoral college had nothing to do with one’s ability to travel to DC. I’m not sure where you got that.

Also, the Senate is coupled with the House of Representatives. Therefore, that side of Congress takes population into consideration.

I find both Congress and the Electoral College to be very elegant solutions to a complex problem. Were it not for the EC, rural areas would have absolutely no voice. The founding fathers of the US took the minority into consideration, which was smart.

I was actually going to put this in my question (but forgot to), because I once heard someone on CNN (after the Kerry/Bush election) saying that an overhaul of the EC was a bad idea beacuse it would leave the ‘food producing states’ with too little influence (too long ago, so no cite).

I found (and still find) this a very strange reasoning as I can’t think of any reason why an individual in a rural area should have a stronger/more important vote than an individual in an urbanized area. I mean, in the end there is one seat (the presidency) that is decided upon and to me it seams that in the current system some individuals’ vote counts more than others. But I respect other opinions off course.

Not true. They would have a voice exactly in proportion to their population, which is what they deserve.

To the OP, I encourage you to become a paying member and use the search function, as there have been many thorough debates on this Board about both the Senate and the electoral college. Both over-weight sparsely populated areas. Sparsely populated areas, in the United States, tend to be more conservative than urban areas. Since this Board has a majority far-left political orientation, you’ll find relatively little love for either the EC or the Senate.

The Electors don’t actually assemble in Washington, DC and vote. Each state’s Electors meet in the state capital. One reason why the Founding Fathers choose an indirect election as opposed to a direct election was the fear that a state would try to increase it’s influence by “recklessly” expanding it’s franchise. Doing something absurd like letting women vote would double a state’s electorate overnight.

The short answer is that it was never intended, so nothing happened to it.

The U.S. was founded as a compromise between two principles. “One man one vote, united republic” vs. “A confederation of Independant states”. And the compromise in the constituition swung more on the side of Independant states. The upper house of Congress, and the Executive were to be based on it, while only the lower house on the principle of a single republican entity.

Many of the original framers of the contitution envisioned something a lot more like the EU, than the U.S. of today. Although with a more cohesive National Army and Navy organization than the EU. They wanted it to have just enough power to be a mediator and arbitrator and organizer between the states, strongly enforced by the ninth amendment. They didn’t want Virginia(the California of the day) steamrolling and governing the smaller states that wanted autonomy.

Hi football. Welcome to the Dope. Where are you from?

As far as the Senate question–here is the short version:

The United States Congress is the body that sponsors and passes laws. It is divided into two houses–The Senate and the House of Representatives. A bill has to pass in both houses before it becomes a law.

The Representatives are apportioned according to population. So the number of Representatives in each state varies from 1 to 52. (Each state is guaranteed at least one Representative, regardless of population.) In contrast, each state has two Senators, regardless of population.

Therefore, there is a balance between each individual getting his or her fair representation in Congress, and each state getting its fair representation in congress.

A large population state like California with it’s 37 million people can’t overwhelm a small-population state like Wyoming with its half-million people, and vice versa. California may have 52 Representatives, but it only has 2 senators. Wyoming has the same 2 senators, but it only has one Representative.

So there’s a balance.

The Senate is the “upper” house, and the House of Representatives (or "House) is the “lower” house. It’s considered more prestigious to be a Senator than a Representative.

And here’s a piece of information which might be helpful to you as you’re trying to understand what’s going on in American news: As I said, both the Senate and the House of Representatives are part of Congress. And they are all referred to as members of Congress. But individually, in practice, members of the Senate are called Senators, and members of the House of Representatives are called “Congressmen” or “Congresswoman.” So if someone is called a Senator, then he or she is a member of Senate. If someone is called a “Congressman,” then he is a member of the House of Representatives. (I called congresspeople “Representatives” in the above explanation for clarity. It’s technically correct, but not used much in practice. I know it’s confusing. Sorry.)

I’m glad to ramble on about the historical reasons for why this system was put in place if you like. But one thing that’s worth noting–it system was designed over 220 years ago and we’re still using it. I think that’s pretty cool. :slight_smile: There have been minor modifications due to steadily increasing population, but that’s about it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone express any major dissatisfaction with the system as a whole. The point is that it works for us.

BTW–here’s another possibly useful piece of information for the non-Americans who are paying attention to the upcoming presidential election: Barack Obama and his running mate Joe Biden are both Senators. John McCain is a Senator also. His running mate, Sarah Palin, is the governor of her state, Alaska. (The governor is the head-of-state for the state.) It’s very common for people with Senatorial or Gubernatorial experience to run for president.
p.s. Alaska has over 680,000 people, not 350,000. There are 3 other states with fewer people. And it’s by far the largest in terms of territory. (That’s no comment on Sarah Palin. Just offering some info.) Here’s a handy chart showing the populations of each state, their represenation in Congress, etc.

The overwhelming majority of us who are not Freddies believe that those who go by the name “Freddy” are irredeemably vile, and we vote to have them all shot at dawn. Magnanimously, we allow you wretched Freddies to vote against this measure if you wish. There aren’t enough of you to defeat it, of course, but you have a voice exactly in proportion to your population, which is what you deserve. We suggest you pray to your dark Freddonian gods for mercy.

That’s an (admittedly exaggerated) example of the “tyranny of the majority”, which our system tries to keep in check by guaranteeing at least some representation even to groups that constitute only small minorities of the total population. Of course, we have to balance that against the tyranny of vocal minorities, too. No one said the system was perfect.

Didn’t “one man, one vote” go out with the 19th Amendment?


footballisplayedwithyourfeet was right about the history of the EC, IIRC. In the early Presidential elections, each state could determine who to send to the EC however they chose, and those members were free to vote as they saw fit. They would meet, things would get hashed around, and occasionally it would go to the House. Essentially, because an Athenian style democracy was unworkable given the scale of the colonies, and because Athen’s democracy did devolve into a form of tyranny by mob rule.

Now, whichever way a state goes, all the members of the EC go that way. The only reason it skews to support the low population states is that you can’t have less than three (2 Senators and a Rep.). This doesn’t have to mean rural, as it applies to urban but geographically small states, also, but in practice it does.

I’m rare in that I kind of like the EC. I believe provides all the benefits (and drawbacks) of digitizing a signal. There is no way to count 100 million votes without some errors. Dividing the votes into blocks you provide an error check. Only in a case like Florida in the Gore-Bush election, in which a state with millions of people was within a few hundred votes of going either way is there a problem. (In theory, if the election was a simple majority, Gore would have won. I don’t look at it that way. The overall election was so close that I’m not convinced there was a statistically meaningful majority, but that is whole 'nother topic.)

Yeah, a Californians vote one year might count a little bit less than a Texans, but the next election it could be the other way around. The unfortunate aspect is that states are historical artifacts, not equal sized voting blocks. Since states can’t have less than three, any voter in a state that would otherwise qualify for fewer than three counts disproportionately. However, there are only 7; two of them are urban (DC and DE) and one is very liberal (VT), so realistically, we are not talking a big deal here.

Actually, for most of US history, “one man, one vote” just didn’t exist. Until 1964, when the Supreme Court created the term*, American voters had nothing like equal represenation.

State legislatures didn’t always change congressional districts to match changes in population and sometimes only changed them if the number of representatives changed.

It was worse in state legislatures, where the upper house member typically would represent a county, no matter what population it was.

And county governments were often run by a Board of Supervisors (in New York), where each town had a single vote regardless of their population. It led to situations were towns with a quarter of the county’s population controlled half the votes on the county board.

The Supreme Court said this was unconstitional. However, they specifically exempted the Senate because its representation was set up due to a “historic compromise.”

*They actually called it “one person, one vote.”

That sounds sort of dumb, considering that California is the state with the most agricultural exports, about twice the next highest state, according to the USDA

The Senate is fine, as it’s balanced out by the House. The Electoral College is a little wonky, but I don’t have a large problem with it. I don’t agree with the ‘winner of the state takes all the votes’ thing, but that’s actually a state by state issue, and I think there’s two states that do divide up their EC votes based on how the vote went. In general, USAers tend to stick with the status quo. But Gore vs Bush stirred things up, with the results of the electoral vote being the opposite of the popular vote, and with the mess in Florida, and many people blamed the EC system for that.

This book doesn’t have a problem with the whole thing, but it does raise issues with a lot of it:


Interesting stuff if you are interested…

Thanks Holden. I am interested.

One of the things, IMHO, that makes our Constitution so remarkable is that it wasn’t crafted from the pure altruistic ideals that we like to attribute to the Founding Fathers. It was, in many ways, just like any bill floating through Congress today–full of sops to special interests. The amazing part is that it’s worked so well for so long in spite of that.

I do not have a problem with the EC being there I think it is a good thing. I do have a problem with the winner take all the votes from the state. My vote will be disregarded by the EC. The vote should be divided by the ratio of votes in the state.

There has been more than once that the popular vote and the EC have been at odds.

Several times no canidate has recieved over 51% of the popular vote, but did get over 51% EC.

Imanage a three party election with three popular canidates. It has never happened yet, but it could.

Yes, some errors are inevitable, but dividing the vote into blocks never makes those errors more manageable. It’s far more likely to get a race so close that it needs a recount in a single critical state (such as Florida in 2000) than it is to get the same thing happen in a single aggregated national election.

Nebraska and Maine, in principle. Each gives their two “senatorial” EVs to the overall winner of the state, but apportions the “representative” EVs according to Congressional district. I say “in principle”, because it’s never yet happened that either has ended up splitting their votes this way, but it might happen this election: Nebraska’s 2nd district is currently only slightly favoring McCain and might end up going for Obama, but the rest of the state is an almost-certain McCain victory.

There are virtually no examples of this happening in history, and it certainly doesn’t make sense in terms of representation in Congress. When would populous states ever terrorize less populous ones? Right now, it could be easily argued that the opposite is taking place with agricultural subsidies - a product of the senatorial tyranny of the minority.

At the Constitutional Convention, several competing plans for structuring the national legislature were put forth. The Virginia Plan called for a bicameral legislature, with the upper house being elected by the lower, and the lower house by the people. Both houses would be proportionally representative.

The less populous states opposed the Virginia Plan on the grounds that it would effectively cede control of the federal government to the larger states (notably, Virginia was the most populous state at the time). As one of the goals of the Convention was to revise (or, as they eventually did, replace) the toothless Articles of Confederation to make federal law binding on the states, the smaller states feared that the more populous states would use control of the legislature to pass laws that would unfairly disadvantage them. In essence, they feared a tyranny of the majority. The smaller states supported the New Jersey Plan instead, which called for a unicameral legislature with one vote per state.

Our current Congress is the obvious compromise between the two, with the House of Representatives drawn from the Virginia Plan’s lower house, and the Senate based on the New Jersey Plan’s single house.

Were the fears of the smaller states justified? I’m not a historian, so I’ll withhold judgment. If there’s no evidence of it, maybe the compromise is doing its job, regardless of what else is wrong with our legislature. Whether it was necessary or not, claims that it “doesn’t make sense” in terms of Congressional representation fall rather flat, given that it’s one of the key reasons for the structure of that body.

Oh, and if you want an example, maybe you could ask a gay couple in Texas who want to get married.