Charles Petzold

The Racism of the Electoral College, Mathematically Demonstrated

August 26, 2019
Roscoe, NY

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently suggested that the Electoral College is racist. Obviously Fox News objected to that characterization, and even one of my Facebook friends linked to the article and called Ms. Ocasio-Cortez a "dimwit."

Something is racist when it treats people of different races or ethnic groups in a prejudicial manner. If the Electoral College gives an inherent advantage to white voters, then it is racist. This advantage doesn't have to be explicit; it could be based solely on demographics.

In an election for President of the United States, each state gets a certain number of electors that is equal to that state's number of Senators (which is always 2) plus the number of members in the House of Representatives, which is based on population. The most obvious result is that individual voters in small-population states tend to have more power in choosing the President than individual voters in high-population states. Intuitively, we might feel that since high-population states also tend to have greater minority populations, the Electoral College gives white voters an advantage. But let's quantify it.

The data I'll be using come from a 2010 Census Brief entitled Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010. Table 11 contains the U.S. population by state divided into the categories "Non-Hispanic White Alone" and "Minority." A footnote indicates: "For this report, 'minority' refers to people who reported their ethnicity and race as something other than non-Hispanic White alone in the decennial census." I'm not fond of the term "minority," but that's what I'll use.

The first three columns of the 2010 section of Table 11 were transferred to columns B, C, and D of an Excel spreadsheet and sorted by population. Column E calculates the Percentage Minority.

Column F has the number of Electors in each state. These range from 3 for several states to 55 for California. Cell G56 is the number of total electors (538) divided by the total population (308,745,538) and equals 1.74 × 10–6, which is the number of electors per person. I use this figure for normalizing other results.

The bulk of column G shows the number of electors divided by the population for each state, normalized by dividing by cell G56. This column is titled Relative Voting Strength because it indicates the relative strength that an individual voter has in that state for choosing the President. The values are relative to the average U.S. voter, and range from 3.05 for Wyoming to 0.85 for California. By giving more electoral power to the residents of low-population states, the Electoral College clearly violates the concept of One Person - One Vote.

But let's continue. Columns H and I are titled White Electors and Minority Electors. These two columns apportion each state's electors by the Percentage Minority value for that state. These columns are then totaled. The final two columns, White Relative Voting Strength and Minority Relative Voting Strength show the two previous totals divided by the total U.S. Non-Hispanic White and Minority populations, again normalized by dividing by G56.

The White Relative Voting Strength value is 1.02 and the Minority Relative Voting Strength value is 0.96, indicating about a 6% differential in Presidential voting strength between white voters and minority voters. That might seem small, but imagine if you learned that your vote was automatically lessened by 6% — in other words, that the candidate you favored required 17 votes for every 16 votes that the other candidate received.

Once again, Representative Ocasio-Cortez knows whereof she speaks.