This piece was originally posted on medium.com
Normally, I’m not very data-driven in my writing. I talk about how things make people feel, myself included, and I think that’s generally the right thing for me to do. That’s how my brain works.
Donald Trump won last Tuesday and I don’t like it, to put it in the most numb-therefore-accurate way possible. I’m going to put every piece of me against it. But let me tell you what bothered me the most: Hillary Clinton won.
The popular vote. By a lot.
Here’s the thing: I’m not going to tell you we can undo Trump’s victory by trying to convince people to be faithless electors. I urged people to stop finding the personal information of superdelegates and contacting them when Bernie Sanders lost — not because I think the DNC made the right choice, but because it erases some credibility in future arguments to be a sore loser, even if rightly so. Also, it’s kind of stalking.
What I want to talk to you about is that the Electoral College makes it possible for your vote to matter more than or less than another person’s vote, and that’s really, really wrong.
I have found that if you generalize at a nationwide level, non-white votes are worth about 5 percent less thanks to the Electoral College.
Let’s talk Methodology
Starting with the U.S. census and most recent growth estimates (2015), I took the population, number of electoral votes, and number of people per electoral vote of every state (and the District of Columbia) and applied demographic data to it, building two categories: white (non-Hispanic) and non-white. California is the largest state and has the most electoral votes, as well as the lowest number of people per electoral vote, so I used it as my baseline. Every other state’s electoral votes are worth more per person.
Using the number of votes per person, one can derive a “vote weight vs. California,” which I used to multiply the white and non-white populations of every state, which I added up and found that the numbers are not 1:1 with the actual population. This allowed me to derive multipliers after weight adjustment, and simple math can tell you how much of 1.201 that 1.144 accounts for: roughly 95 percent. Meaning for every 100 non-white people in the equation, there is a net of 95.
Firstly, any difference in value of any individual’s vote when compared to another individual’s vote, racial or not, intentional or not, is a serious problem. We are told this election is voting on the president — and that isn’t exactly true. We’re voting on representatives in the electoral college, who then vote on the president. This is a way of prioritizing smaller states, at the disadvantage of people in the city.
People in rural states often maintain that this is to “protect the little guy,” as if there are no “little guys” in urban areas. On top of that, the “little guy” in a rural area is significantly more likely to be a white landowner, while the “little guy” in an urban area is significantly more likely to be a person of color renting a small apartment in a building filled with people from similar backgrounds doing the same. There are actually many more “little guys,” white and non-white, in an urban area.
Personally, I think this is enough to find the system too flawed to accomplish what we are told it accomplishes. The President is a single, individual representative we supposedly try to ensure the majority agrees on, and the system is set up to ignore the will of a lot of people. It prioritizes people in smaller states (which creates a maybe-intentional-maybe-not racial bias), when it should prioritize no one.
Whether or not it is intentional might be too contentious to argue for many (though, here is an interesting read on the subject) — the net effect of the EC is that white votes are worth more.
Some might say “well, a 5 percent difference isn’t really that much.” That just isn’t true when a .05 percent difference is too much. If you need somewhere between 105 and 106 people of color to match 100 white people, that’s a much more serious disadvantage when you actually have 5-to-30-or-so people of color for every 100 white people. The method presented here also uses total population; I’d be willing to bet it would be worse if voter turnout was factored in — where non-white people are discouraged and often disenfranchised from voting.
Also, one must keep in mind that I performed a heavily generalized calculation on this data. This country is not made up of “whites” and “non-whites,” but rather many different ethnic groups. If one were to break it down by specific group, it is likely that you’d find some at further disadvantage. Similarly, there are other voter suppression tactics (like the closing of polling locations, the requiring of state ID, and the barring of people with felony convictions from the vote) that disproportionally and unfairly affect people of color for various reasons. It is also very likely that votes are further devalued regionally, as well.
The agenda at play here is not what you might think. I certainly didn’t want Donald Trump to be elected, but I also sincerely doubt we have a path to nullifying the Electoral College before it finalizes his election as President of The United States. I don’t think Change.org petitions actually do anything, either. Have they ever?
I have long held a view that the Electoral College is not a fair way to elect the president, especially as we are led to believe it is an election where our votes matter. I would argue that even the impression one’s vote does not matter (such as the popular vote going to the loser twice in a person’s relatively recent memory) seriously undermines even a representative democracy. I think what is shown in even fairly generalized math is worse than that.
Nullification of the Electoral College, first through measures like the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and then eventual abolition through constitutional amendment not only ensures that one person’s vote is equal to every other persons, but also opens the door for presidential candidates outside of the binary parties to be legitimized.
The United States has grown beyond the systems that were established 238 years ago. We need to acknowledge this. Demographically, culturally, and scientifically speaking, we are almost nothing like the country founded at that time.
Why are we pretending we are?
This work was done as part of the next entry to my “Very Important Documentaries” series, which you can help fund at patreon.com/petercoffin