The Electoral College: White lives matter

In the wake of Trump’s election, in which he lost the popular vote by nearly three million, much has been said about the use of the Electoral College. Only four times in US history has the winner of the electoral vote lost the popular vote, but two of those instances were recent Republican victories (Trump in 2016 and Bush in 2000). (The other times were Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and Rutherford Hayes in 1876.) With partisan battle lines now so thickly drawn, it seems likely it may happen again.

It’s no secret the system was designed to shift power to rural southern states, in part to protect the institution of slavery. It’s now become the crutch for rural white influence over national affairs, giving Trump’s campaign of white backlash just enough mathematical edge to steal the election.

Thanks to social media, we are all now well aware that a vote cast for president in Wyoming has 3.6 times more electoral punch than my vote in California. Across the board, those in small states are over-represented in the Electoral College, while those in populous states are under-represented.



Electoral College voting power by state, compared to their racial and ethnic composition. Nationwide, there is an average of 1.72 electors per million people. Larger states have less than this; smaller states more (sometimes much more). The size of the circles is correlated to the number of electors from each state. The color is correlated to their vote in the 2016 election. Note that Maine (purple) uses a system that split its electoral votes. Puerto Rico is not included in any calculations but shown here by way of example. Other US territories without any electoral votes are also less than 10% white.

Less-discussed are the implications that this system has on race. On average, those rural states with the extra voting power are disproportionately white (and non-Hispanic). The large under-represented states are predominately people of color. Again, California and Wyoming, at the opposite ends of the spectrum, illustrate the point. (Completely off the scale is Puerto Rico, less than 1% white non-Hispanic and with zero electoral votes.) Two-thirds of Americans live in states that are either more white than average and over-represented in the Electoral College, or less white than average and under-represented. In fact, the vast majority of non-white people live in states with diminished voting power. Only 6% of the electorate live in states that are over-represented in the Electoral College and are also less white than average. Overall, taking a weighted average across all states, a person of color’s voting power for president, thanks to the Electoral College system, is 83% of that of white people. Call it the 4/5th compromise. This is what “democracy” looks like in the US.

For a discussion of Native reservations during the 2012 and 2016 elections, see this post about “blue islands in a red prairie”.

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