Speaking of White Privilege….

In the wake of the election, there has been a renewed call to get rid of the Electoral College–or at least modify its operation via the National Popular Vote Project to require electors to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote.

The Electoral College was originally a concession to the slave states, allowing them to “count” their slaves (albeit at a discount). Today, it has all sorts of pernicious and undemocratic effects. Not long ago, Jamin Raskin, who teaches Constitutional law at George Washington University, summed up a number of those effects in a post to the American Constitution Society’s blog. Raskin noted that,

in the absence of the Electoral College, it would no longer make strategic sense to “turn off the lights and fly over 40 states – from California to New York, Texas to Vermont, Georgia to Mississippi, Hawaii to Alaska, South Dakota to Montana, and so on.” And he disputed the argument that the rest of the electorate “should be content to be long-distance spectators because the voters of Virginia or Arizona or Florida are just like us and are effectively acting as proxies for our interests and our values.”

This was precisely the argument that was rejected in the American Revolution.

The British tried to convince the American colonists that they didn’t need their own elections and representatives in Parliament because they were “virtually represented” by members back home representing Englishmen of similar views. The colonists rebelled against this insulting doctrine of “virtual representation,” which they treated as an assault on political liberty and authentic democracy rooted in the politics of place. Roughly 140 years later, we similarly rejected claims that women didn’t need the vote because they were adequately represented by men.

Every citizen’s vote should count equally in presidential elections, as in elections for governor or mayor. But the current regime makes votes in swing states hugely valuable while rendering votes in non-competitive states virtually meaningless. This weird lottery, as we have seen, dramatically increases incentives for strategic partisan mischief and electoral corruption in states like Florida and Ohio. You can swing a whole election by suppressing, deterring, rejecting and disqualifying just a few thousand votes.

My own biggest “gripe” is, as I have previously written, the extra weight the system gives to votes from rural areas. In effect, urban votes count less and rural preferences count more–an anti-democratic result. But an analysis by Vox has confirmed that it isn’t only voters from more thinly populated areas who are privileged by the system. The Electoral College also privileges the votes of white Americans.

The probability of one person’s vote being decisive, we found, ranged from roughly one in a million for a resident of New Hampshire — a swing state with a relatively small population — to less than one in one billion in states that are reliably “red” or “blue,” such as New York, California, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

We can use a similar approach to show how the Electoral College increases not just the weight of voters in swing states but the weight of voters of certain ethnicities — based on their distribution across the states. We find that, based on the current distribution of voters of different ethnicities across states, and particularly within swing states, the Electoral College amplifies the power of white voters by a substantial amount….

After running the numbers, we estimate that, per voter, whites have 16 percent more power than blacks once the Electoral College is taken into consideration, 28 percent more power than Latinos, and 57 percent more power than those who fall into the other category.

I’m sure that analysis warms the cockles of Bill O’Reilly’s heart. (I assume he does have one. Somewhere.) It doesn’t do much for mine.


  1. I am going to assume I am among friends here, admit my lack of knowledge and ask what will appear to many to be a stupid question but I really do not understand. Am also asking for a little patience. HOW and WHY does the system give “extra weight” to votes from rural areas as stated by Sheila? As an example; how would this have effected the 88th District, which straddles the Marion County line and includes rural areas, where Brian Bosma has had a stronghold for 30 years…most of them with no opposition? This year he did have very active opposition in the person of Democrat Dana Black. The results would, in turn, effect the Electoral College vote. This appears to me to be directly connected to gerrymandering…is it?

    “My own biggest “gripe” is, as I have previously written, the extra weight the system gives to votes from rural areas. In effect, urban votes count less and rural preferences count more–an anti-democratic result.”

  2. The electoral college has served its purpose (however we determine what it was) and as I blog, counties and states don’t vote; people do. We need to pay more attention to Baker v. Carr and less to outworn ideas of yesteryear what with the now demonstrated fact that subservience to an old idea is creating an opportunity for structural racism to last ad nauseam(as Sheila points out). The electoral college idea as applied today, though a creature of the Constitution, is in its application anti-democratic and should be sent to the dustbin of history, just as buggy whips lost out with the advent of the motorcar.

  3. I suspect that all on this blog would agree that the electoral college needs to go. The question is, “how?” How do we do that with a Republican central government that got its power by using this outdated and undemocratic rule, as well as gerrymandering, voter suppression and Citizens United to get enough power to rule us, not govern us. Just how do we do that?

  4. Theresa,

    You bring up a question that seems to not have a solution. With the oligarchs now able to fully take control of our public educational system they will eliminate our ability to teach future generations the most valuable subjects that exist. Learning about civics and their own rights as citizens would enable them to think for themselves and gain the ability to govern our country in a way that could be more fair to all in the future. That possibility now seems lost. This election will create lasting damage for our children and grandchildren.

  5. Americans generally love to throw the bums out, so that gives Democrats a distinct advantage for the next 4 years. The question is, “Do the Democrats have the courage to stand up and speak about what they really believe, in terms the electorate can understand, or do they spend the next 4 years trying not to insult anyone and continue to lose?”

    It’s clear that a large number of Americans don’t care about insults or lies. They only care about the perception that they are “getting screwed”. The message we need is some part of the Bernie message, with a dollop of responsibility and self reliance thrown in. If that sounds cynical, it also sounds like what might just work.

  6. Taken into consideration the blacks , Latinos , disenfranchised Bernie supporters , and DEAD voters who all crossed over and voted for Mr. Trump, Hillary is STILL a hands down – LOSER ….

    ” …so get over it .” – Anton Scalia

    – Yes the Electoral college needs reformed – Now that we have an ANTI- NWO Globalist in office, it’s safe to do so .

  7. Peggy; my question is will the REPUBLICANS have the courage to stand up and speak about what they really believe? Those who publicly said they didn’t support Trump; what will they do now, will they join the Democratic members of Congress to stop Trump, Pence, Ryan and the incoming cabinet members. Or will they approve all of those obviously unqualified nominees? They had the courage to shut down this government twice, threaten a third shutdown, what will they do now? Do they have the courage to say, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Or will they vote to maintain their positions and GOP support?

  8. Thank you, Sheila, but I am still confused by the term “rural vote”. Is that referring to the smaller states with more electors, based on population?

    I also wondered about the Convention Roll Calls; did the fact that, no matter who electors voted for in all 50 states and 5 territories, they switched all votes to Trump, thereby “stacking the deck”? Did all nominees agree to this or are they given the option? If I remember correctly; in 2008, HIllary publicly turned her votes over to Obama. Would Open Primaries in all states offset the outcome? Closed Primaries seems to me to be a violation of our voting rights; or is that another way to “stack the deck” and are primaries connected to gerrymandering? All decisions seem to be in the hands of Republicans; is this due my repeated complaint of “follow the money”?

    As much as I have learned through this past election nightmare; I have mainly learned how little I know and how much more I need to learn. Elections should be so simple; he/she who gets the most votes is the winner. Now, it seems to rely on the new version of the Golden Rule; “He who has the gold, rules.”

  9. It would be a little better if these electoral votes were helpful because our representatives are deeply engaged in the welfare of all the people. However, there are too many lobbies in office on both the state and National levels, as well as too many deals for the powerful proxies to show care for the people. The biggest lobby is the military industrial complex which would like to engage those young voters in another set of “conflicts” for the sake of “our interests.” The MIC would rather fight terrorists with bombs than bullets with the latter less expensive bullets shot by intelligence rather than raw aggression.

  10. This argument is the least effective in terms of trying to persuade those whom it benefits most. White guys, rural folk, and conservatives (same thing?) will say “see, they’re race baiting! There’s nothing wrong with the Electoral College!” We should really be making the argument that it’s undemocratic. It would be harder to argue with that. Another issue that has suffered from the race issue is BLM. White people went nuts. But if it had been “Stop Police Brutality”? Harder to argue against. Dems/Libs don’t have a message issue, we have a branding issue.

  11. The issue with open primaries is that they are highly vulnerable to shenanigans, whereby the opposing party shows up and votes for the candidate they think they are most likely to be able to beat.

  12. Aimee; regarding Open Primaries vs. Closed Primaries, with closed primaries only one side gets the opportunity to use that trick. I have only read about that possibility and am sure it does happen but, having voted in every election since 1958 I have never known anyone to actually use that tactic.

    Just as I have never heard of anyone smoking hemp; yet it is banned by local government from being farmed in Indiana due to having similar properties as marijuana. On the other hand; have never heard of ropes, welcome mats, tote bags, etc., being made from marijuana plants. Both could be taxed cash crops and both have medical benefits; but Big Pharma doesn’t want homegrown marijuana cutting into any profits they could gain by legalizing it so the state of Indiana bans farming hemp.

    Maybe I expect too much from our government; such as logic and common sense and what is best for the majority of Americans.

  13. Today I do not feel optimistic. The authoritarians have seized control, and they know that due to demographic shifts and the dying off of their base this is their last chance to make their control permanent. We are whining about the electoral college, assuming there is a democratic future. Good luck with that.

    Meanwhile, when my kids ask me who killed America, and I will pull up a picture of Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and tell them that the egos of ostensibly liberal people who cared more about their own power and wealth than the good of the country, people who didn’t believe in democracy in their own political party, people who managed to capture control of the only viable opposition and render it incapable of winning a presidential election, drove the stake through its heart.

  14. Over it; both sides share guilt in the frightening outcome of this election and blame for whatever befalls us after January 20th. I mentioned in an earlier comment about the Republican Roll Call; when the votes for nominees other than Trump were transferred to him. History will incorrectly show him receiving all primary votes in all 50 states and 5 territories. Due to the blatant racist campaign foundation run by Trump; white privilege prevailed!

    At the Democratic Roll Call; Bernie gave his support and his vote to Hillary but maintained his 46% of the primary votes…had he not done so, would/could Hillary have been elected? How many millions of dollars were wasted by holding a public election which would not be decided by the public?

    We must not omit blame to be attributed to Citizens United for allowing U.S. government to be bought and paid for on the public auction block. Again; white privilege prevailed as the vast majority of the wealthy 1% are white.

  15. Joanne, maybe this description will help, too. I’ll add the link, but here is the pertinent passage:

    “But the biggest vice of the Electoral College is its blatant unfairness to voters in the bigger states. As a resident of the largest state, California, I look at the residents of the smallest state, Wyoming, with particular envy during election season. Each vote cast in Wyoming is worth 3.6 as much as the same vote cast in California. How can that be, you might ask? It’s easy to see, when you do the math. Although Wyoming had a population in the last census of only 563,767, it gets 3 votes in the Electoral College based on its two Senators and one Congressman. California has 55 electoral votes. That sounds like a lot more, but it isn’t when you consider the size of the state. The population of California in the last census was 37,254,503, and that means that the electoral votes per capita in California are a lot less. To put it another way, the three electors in Wyoming represent an average of 187,923 residents each. The 55 electors in California represent an average of 677,355 each, and that’s a disparity of 3.6 to 1. ”


  16. The populous states get to pay most of the bills and in return get a proportionately smaller share of the electoral college.

  17. Sherry; thank you so much, your explanation cleared up that “rural” question for me.

    I have always questioned why there hasn’t been an Amendment to provide more Senators than two per state. When you look at the math from that view, it is more unfair to the Senators and to the number of people they are expected to serve in states with much higher populations.

    Aimee; I must apologize regarding a “crossover party vote” with an explanation. I had lived in Florida for 7 years; when I moved back here I knew nothing about any candidates. Coming from a Republican family, I didn’t go to them for information. There were many problems with the Homestead and Disability Exemptions on my property taxes, causing the rate to be too high. I made a few trips to the Warren Township Assessor’s Office for help; Bill Birkle went out of his way to answer my questions and do some deep research into the history of property taxes on my home. He finally discovered someone years earlier had included my 22 X 22 ft garage as part of my living area; made the changes and resolved the problem. Thanked him profusely; he asked me to vote for him and I agreed. Went to the polling place on primary day and when asked which party, I had no idea. Gave them his name, learned he was a Republican, he was the only person I voted for that day. I don’t really consider I “crossed party lines”; by November election day I was much better informed but I did vote for Mr. Birkle again…he won.

  18. Sherry – Thanks for your calculations. That’s one way to do them. If you calculate just the 2 electoral college votes each state gains for its 2 U.S. Senators, Wyoming’s 2 statewide electoral votes for their voters receive 66 times the weight of California’s 2 electoral votes. (Wyoming’s 2 electoral votes receive 11 times the weight of Indiana’s.) This flies in the face of one-person-one-vote rulings of the Supreme Court.

    Adding insult to that injury, the Electoral College also discriminates against many voters with the winner-take-all provision in most states (all but 8 as I recall). So when a presidential ticket gets one vote more than the opposing candidate in a winner-take-all state like Indiana, the votes of those who supported the losing candidate don’t count AT ALL in electoral college vote tallies. That’s a large part of the reason why the electoral college votes can skew and even outweigh results of the national popular vote.

    The founding fathers preferred democracy to the monarchy but also had real fears of uneducated masses making bad decisions for themselves and the nation in those days before public education, mass communications, and easy travel to learn about each other. As Sheila noted, the more rural slave states also did not want to be overwhelmed by more populous states which opposed slavery. (Nevertheless, the south was only willing to count slaves as 3/5ths of a person.) So the founding fathers compromised with the southern slave owners (which included Washington and Jefferson among others) to create the electoral college AND gave electors the power to ignore the voters altogether to select a president the voters did NOT support. Those compromises AND re-locating the U.S. capital city to a more southern location were all done to gain enough votes to ratify the U.S.Constitution.

  19. “My own biggest “gripe” is, as I have previously written, the extra weight the system gives to votes from rural areas. In effect, urban votes count less and rural preferences count more–an anti-democratic result.”

    If the Electoral College favors rural voters’ preferences at present, will the removal of the Electoral College, in turn, favor urban voters’ preferences? This is a conundrum. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

  20. The electors will go when turning to see the popularity of white leaders, they see no one there as followers. It is indeed a privilege to be the only ones in line at a water fountain labeled WHITE.

  21. Has anyone else noticed that Marv hasn’t commented since before Christmas? Hope all is well with you Marv.

  22. Nancy,

    I’m fine. You have to admit I’m, as The Florida Times-Union put it, “…..more than radical.” And I don’t plan to change.

    However, Sheila feels I’m disruptive to the group and I have to agree with her. Never, in my wildest imagination, did I believe that anyone would allow me to vent my political feelings publicly like Sheila has allowed me to do. She’s one of a kind. I’m sure there is no one else like her in the U.S. Sheila’s blog is about democracy first and foremost. And I’m about anti-Fascism first and foremost. They’re connected, but, STILL, not that connected at this point in time. Thank God.

    Consequently, I take away from the importance of concentrating on democracy and its values by turning the discussion on the blog toward the dangers of fascism. It’s a “Catch 22” situation. I don’t want to do anything to water-down Sheila’s daily messages, as they are too important to me and I know the same goes for you.

    Like many of Sheila’s viewers around the world, I look forward to Sheila’s comments every day as well as your’s and the other commenters who have left such a favorable impression with me the past 18 months.

  23. Marv: I simply suggested that your focus on SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League was distracting. Nothing more. I did not say you were “disruptive to the group,” nor do I think you are/were. And this blog is about much more than democracy, important as that is–it is about evidence-based policy, the importance of integrity in government, the nature of public service, the need to combat tribalism and hate, and the importance of a free exchange of opinion about all of those things.

  24. Sheila,

    “Marv: I simply suggested that your focus on SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League was distracting.”

    As you suggested that I take my opinions about the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League to another venue, I agree 100%, especially, after witnessing the “love affair” between Donald Trump and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. I’m not going to back down. And the Israelis aren’t going to like it one bit. I’ve been focusing on this problem for over 45 years and it is not a “fixation,” even though, I agree with you, it appears to be one with me. I doubt if President Obama would disagree with me on this one.

    Dealing with the SPLC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Mossad and others can be somewhat troublesome. I don’t want this mess to spill over to the blog. And it will as I continue to move forward on this vital issue. I’ve been there on more than one occasion.

    I was at the library earlier this afternoon and copied this quote from the local African-American weekly newspaper:

    “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

    ~James Baldwin, African-American author

  25. Marv; I took this comment from Sheila to mean this issue (you cannot be the only one who holds these views) to mean it deserves a separate venue…to concentrate on the specific need for both organizations to address the anti-Semitism issue full force. I am a member of SPLC and agree with you on this. Please come back; your knowledge and experience is missed here and you can provide information WE need here to fight anti-Semitism. We need both venues at this time. Jo

    “As you suggested that I take my opinions about the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League to another venue…”

  26. Read your column with interest and respect SK, however you understated the founding fathers a bit. Madison and Hamilton were instrumental in creation of the Electoral College. Neither wanted a democracy. Madison’s interests were for protecting slavery and providing a greater voice for the richer land owners – an owner of 50 slave got 31 votes for the President, his and 3/5 of 50 slaves. Hamilton wanted a meritocracy in which the well educated and positioned controlled the election. The Electoral College could override the popular vote. –
    No way will the smaller states today give up their absolute power in the election of the President by allowing a Constitutional Amendment which includes Indiana.

  27. Lawrence O’Donnell did a piece on the Electoral College after the election. It boils down to over-representation by smaller states. For example, Wyoming has 3 electoral votes, the least number possible, and California has 55. If the Electoral College votes were allocated according to population, California should have about 200 electoral votes, so California voters are getting screwed–each California voter has only about 1/4 of the voting power of a Wyoming voter. That’s just one example. It’s both unfair and undemocratic, and, as we are about to see, the results will be devastating.

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