Valuing Votes

I have encountered an article on the New York Times article by Sarah Cowan, Stephen Doyle and Drew Heffron titled “How Much Is Your Vote Worth?.” This article is misleading. I do not wish to say that the article does not make a good point; merely that the point is misleading.
The article begins:

“‘THE conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing — one person, one vote,’ the Supreme Court ruled almost a half-century ago. Yet the framers of the Constitution made this aspiration impossible, then and now. “

A worthy statement, and true. It is well demonstrated in the lines that follow that, for a variety of reasons, the electoral college is built in such a way, that “a voter casting a presidential ballot in Wyoming three and a half times more influential than a voter in Florida,” and that “The presidency could be won with just 22 percent of the electorate’s support, only 16 percent of the entire population’s.” Put that way, this statement (which I’m sure is perfectly correct) appears very worrying, but it’s severely misleading.

Here’s why: If you were planning to take over the country using subliminal messages on TV, you would only have to administer targeted brainwashing to 16 percent of the population to win! Efficiency. In conventional presidential races, it is understood that all 47.8 million specific individuals required might not be available to vote for your side, so you cast your net wider.

But all that is quite marginal. The big problem with Cowen’s argument is that it is made out of context. The quote speaks of political equality, without mentioning that it is not the sole component of democracy as we practice it; otherwise, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would be much shorter. A basic feature of democracy is, that it does not equal the rule of the mob, and that political minorities should not go unrepresented. It might be tempting to trounce these damn North Dakotan farmers once and for all, because there aren’t that many of them; but those damn North Dakotan farmers also have a stake in this country, and they’ve done their share building it, God knows. If “one person, one vote” was the sole guiding principle of our political system, it would be easy to ignore them; but when ignoring people, you should always worry that the next guy ignored will be you.

We give individual voters in some states fractionally more voting power, because while those states may be poor in population, they are as rich in culture, tradition, and importance as other states are. It is more virtuous in any case to talk to them and persuade them than to simply vote them gone; more than that: to do so would be to betray democracy.

Published in: on Sunday, November 2nd, 2008 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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