RICHMOND — One person, one vote. That’s the touted philosophy of the American democracy.
But, this presidential election, which started too soon and has involved endless counting of ballots, has made people a little more aware that some votes count more than others. On the positive side, this time, at least, the person with the most popular votes also won the Electoral College.
Even Americans who never heard of the Electoral College (and if the population’s knowledge of civics is any indication, they are many) could not miss it this time. And even election junkies might ordinarily be hard-pressed to tick off the number of Electoral College votes every state has. But, who among us doesn’t now know that it’s Nevada with six, Arizona 11, Pennsylvania 20? On the other hand, who can confidently answer if asked how many Massachusetts has? (We have 11.)
The Electoral College, which puts some states in the driver’s seat and relegates others to the trunk, has been attacked and defended for years. Smaller states say they’ll be left out of the game if a nationwide popular vote determines presidential elections. On the other hand, we’ve put several men behind the desk in the Oval Office when they didn’t beat their opponents in the popular vote — only through the Electoral College.
Granting that some arguments to keep the Electoral College may be valid, surveys indicate 61 percent of Americans are in favor of getting rid of it and putting one person, one vote in charge. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in 2019, “Right now, presidential candidates don’t even go to places like Mississippi … because it’s a deep red state. They also don’t go to deep blue states like California or Massachusetts because they’re not presidential battlegrounds.”
Just think about Massachusetts. Basically, the only time most of us have actually met a presidential candidate in recent years is during the primary campaigns, a time when each of our votes was needed. Otherwise, we probably didn’t see them with the exception of our own: John F. Kennedy, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. And why is that? Because we’re what politicians call “a spectator state” as opposed to “a swing state.” We nearly always vote blue, so, no money or time is “wasted” here.
We seem to share a boat with states like Montana and Wyoming. They’re also unlikely to meet presidential candidates. But, one of the differences is that voters in those states have more clout than Massachusetts voters. We are close to the ideal of one person, one vote, with our 11 Electoral College votes, as is Arizona, which has 11 and a population about the same as ours.
But, that ideal voter power doesn’t work everywhere. Wyoming, for instance, has a population of just over a half-million, while California has 39.5 million, the highest in the country, and 55 Electoral College votes. Wyoming has three votes, one based on population and two just because it has two senators, like every other state.
Translated, that means each Electoral College vote in Wyoming represents 192,919 age-eligible voters; each in California stands for 718,181. As CNN’s John King would say, “Look at the math.” Not one person, one vote, not by a long shot.
Those who argue to keep the Electoral College in place cite points like protection of small states from large states and rural areas from cities. But, one person, one vote should be the primary thought in a democracy, even in the Berkshires, where we often feel outrun by the concentration of legislators in the eastern part of the state.
In 2016, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made 96 percent of their stops in 11 states. Perhaps eliminating the Electoral College would put the other 39 of us back in the loop. More gained than lost.