Electoral representation by demographic group

I’m told that one point of our electoral system is to ensure representation of small states. That’s why small states get two senators even if they have tiny populations, and why each state gets at least three electors in the electoral college (equal to the size of their Congressional delegation). You could make a case for finding ways to make sure small groups are represented, even over-represented, because otherwise they would be ignored. So you discount California voters to make sure Wyoming voters get to be part of the process.

Regardless of the history, which suggests the electoral college was created to protect the interests of slave owners, it’s now the case that Whites have more power in the electoral college, because they dominate the small states. As Lara Merling and Dean Baker show, Blacks have 5% less representation, Latinos have 9% less, and Asian Americans have 7% less representation than Whites.

So it is unfair in its results by the contemporary race/ethnic distribution, but that’s not a fixed quality of the system (it’s merely very durable). Underlying the premise, though, is the idea that the identities to be represented are geographic in nature. There are some issues that have geographic boundaries, like land use or climate-related questions, but the point of an analysis like Merling and Baker’s — like much of Civil Rights law — is that identities also adhere in demographic groups, by gender, race/ethnicity, and age. So the geographic system creates inequities according the demographic system. I don’t see why we should prioritize the geographic in our electoral system, now that geography is so much less of a defining feature in our communication systems and popular culture.

What if we redid the electoral system by the demographic categories of gender, race/ethnicity and age, and then let geographic groups complain if they end up underrepresented, instead of the other way around? Before you write to the governor (again) and demand that I be fired: This does not even rise to the level of a suggestion, it’s literally just a thought.

Here’s how it would look, if we divided 435 seats across 40 demographic identity states, using data from the 2015 American Community from IPUMS.org*:


Compared with the 114 Congress (the one finishing now), this one is more diverse, with 224 instead of 108 women, 56 versus 38 Latinos, 24 versus 13 Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 8 versus 2 American Indians. Only Blacks fare a little worse, dropping form 47 to 44. This also gives us a great improvement in age diversity, as the current average age in the House is 57 and this distribution implies an average age of something like 47.

For comparison, here is the Electoral College we would get under this system, which simply adds two electors to each of these House of Representatives districts, representing their Senate delegations:


Now instead of fighting over New Hampshire or Wyoming, presidential candidates would campaign for swing-groups such as middle-aged American Indians, or young Latinos.

This system would also have a built in version of term limits feature, as people who aged out of their districts presumably would have to run in the next age group up. People who changed gender or race/ethnic identity could also switch districts.

Someone could take some voter or opinion data and figure out how our elections would turn out with this (if someone already has done this, please add it in the comments).

* Because they rounded to zero, I added one House seat to old American Indian men and women, and took one away from middle-aged White women, the largest group. Note also that we might have to redistrict this when the race categories change, as they are expected to in 2020, to add Middle Eastern / North Africans (MENAs).

15 thoughts on “Electoral representation by demographic group

  1. What a terrible idea!

    Racial, gender, ethnic and generational divisions deepened. Identity politics made concrete and permanent.

    Our elected officials now represent all of the people in their districts because we are all one people and have interests in common. The economy, the environment, health care… affect all of us. Your suggestion would have representatives sent to Washington to represent only one narrow group.

    How would you handle voting? Would we all have racial and gender identity cards? Would we then need racial identity tests to confirm which one we belong to? What about the many mixed-racial and mixed-ethnic citizens? Is your goal an apartheid-like government for America?

    When people complain about the excesses of identity politics on college campuses, your suggestion may become exhibit-A.


  2. What about the transgendered?

    Asian is not a real ethnic category; the semi-Caucasian Asians need a different category, and we do not want to share it with MENA.

    What about the Jewish people; they are not really a good fit with white? what about Sephardic and Haredim?

    The categories in Table are too broad; what abut people of two races? my kids have no place here.


  3. In an ideal world this would be an interesting mix, but there are still a lot of people being left out of the process. And we’ll not likely ever live in an ideal world.


  4. I think it singularly odd that you rely solely upon that young adult webzine, Vox, for authoritative conclusions on why the electoral college exists.

    It is even more odd you think organizing principles so focused on individual dignity (no matter how imperfectly realized; although the gradual realizing of the imperfection of the realization has invariably led US society along an improving moral arc) can be improved by dumping them into group grievance politics.

    Finally, you completely fail to ask yourself a very basic question: in what way does a young Latin-American’s (FIFY) political interests differ from a middle-aged Japanese-Americans?


    1. The Vox article is an interview with a Constitutional expert.

      I don’t quite get your other point, but of course right now we’re dumping people into state identity groups, regardless of whether they have common interests. Why should an American Indian 20-year-old in Wyoming be in a different district (for federal elections) than an American Indian 20-year-old in Idaho?


      1. It may be hard for you to comprehend but two people belonging to the same race next door to each other in Montgomery county may have diametrically opposite views of their in group and their visions towards the country. Opinions are formed by complex processes including parents, friends, opportunities, life experiences.

        In some way I am more frightened by this plan than any Trumpian plans.


      2. “right now we’re dumping people into state identity groups, regardless of whether they have common interests.”

        But people who live near each other do have common interests, and encouraging them to recognize that is called “community building.”

        People in the same congressional district might come from different ethnic or racial groups, but they share the same air and water quality, ride on the same roads, use the same public transportation, and send their children to the same school system. They might be served by the same police and fire departments, the same public water system, and they might use the same recreational facilities. They might work for the same company, attend the same university, belong to the same union. And, get ready for a shock, they might actually be friends.


          1. Neither am I. The examples I gave all have federal level regulatory bodies that a congressional representative might seek to involve. Think Flint’s water issues and the need to have the EPA involved.

            But the real question is why not try to decrease the divisions we have in our society rather than enhancing them?


  5. The Vox article is an interview with a Constitutional expert.

    Whose opinion might not be unassailably correct; indeed, it sounds a lot more like ideological axe grinding. And why did Vox only interview one Constitutional expert on the subject?

    There are plenty of detailed historical records on the subject. Clearly, the 3/5 compromise was the noxious fruit of slavery. However, the electoral college had so many other arguments explicitly made in its favor that settling on an argument never made is ripe for skepticism.

    Which should have been reflected in your post. Just because someone asserts a position does not, therefore, mean the assertion is tenable. Yet you accepted it as read.

    I don’t quite get your other point, but of course right now we’re dumping people into state identity groups, regardless of whether they have common interests.

    Because States themselves have interests, which is reflected in the distinction (no matter how abused over the years) between the states and the federal government.

    From History.com

    The Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered several methods of electing the President, including selection by Congress, by the governors of the states, by the state legislatures, by a special group of Members of Congress chosen by lot, and by direct popular election. Late in the convention, the matter was referred to the Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters, which devised the electoral college system in its original form. This plan, which met with widespread approval by the delegates, was incorporated into the final document with only minor changes. It sought to reconcile differing state and federal interests, provide a degree of popular participation in the election, give the less populous states some additional leverage in the process by providing “senatorial” electors, preserve the presidency as independent of Congress, and generally insulate the election process from political manipulation.

    As for my other point, Enlightenment conceptions of natural law underly the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. There is no doubt that, at the time, the circle that included fully fledged humans excluded all manner of humans who, we now know, are also fully fledged: the circle of moral regard has expanded from where it was, to where it should be: everyone — not just white men — is equally entitled to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

    But that is an individualistic notion, not one that sticks to certain groups in certain ways.


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