While I’m certainly familiar with how the Electoral College works, there a couple of things about its impact that I just hadn’t been clued in on.

For one, I hadn’t realized you could easily put metrics to how much “influence” voters have. A voter living in state where a larger number of electors represent a smaller number of voters has more influence than voters living in a state where a smaller number of electors represent a larger number of people. The crux of how these mismatches occur is that while there is an elector for each House seat (and these are roughly proportional to the population), there is also an elector for each Senate seat — and every state gets two, no matter how small.

To take an extreme example, you’ve got 1) Wyoming, with fewer than 600k people, and 3 electoral votes (1 House seat + 2 Senate seats) and 2) California with 40m people (rounded by about as much as the population in Wyoming), and 55 electoral votes (53 House seats + 2 Senate seats). The way that works out is that a vote in Wyoming has 3.5 times as much influence on the electoral college as a vote in California.

More importantly, I hadn’t realized, until watching this video, the long relationship between how the Electoral College works and the outsized influence the Southern states have always had, since the very beginning of the Republic.

Post-revolution, when there were just 13 states, they had to get all the states to agree on the constitution. A big obstacle in gaining consensus was that the Northern states, which were largely (but apparently not completely) anti-slavery, wanted only free people to count in the population towards electoral votes. On the other hand, the pro-slavery Southern states were worried that they would be constantly outvoted if only free people counted, and wanted slaves to count in determining the population. As a compromise they settled on the Three-Fifths clause, which established that slaves would only count as three-fifths of a person. Crisis averted, some level of parity achieved by giving Southern states way more influence than that corresponding to their voting population to get them to play ball, constitution agreed to, country formed.

The connection I never made was that, despite subsequent formal emancipation and formal suffrage, in so thoroughly suppressing the actual Black vote and participation in civic life, the Southern states ensured the priorities of a subset of the population carried the weight of the population of the entire state, thus cementing the disproportionate influence of White Southerners in the affairs of the entire country.

Maybe electors and House seats should be apportioned according to how many people in each state vote during the last election?


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