The Fallacy of One Man, One Vote

When deciding what I should write about next, I first thought about the 3/5th compromise and then about Reynolds v. Sims.  Undoubtedly, the sarcastic reader would comment, “gee, that’s topical” as Reynolds v. Sims was decided in 1964 and the 3/5ths compromise was agreed upon in 1787.  Ultimately, I decided to include them both to discuss the fallacy of the concept “one man, one vote”.

For some reason, the idea of “one man, one vote” (or taken in the modern PC term “one person, one vote”) has been lifted up to just about sacrosanct terms.  I shudder to think of the millions of children in government schools who have had the thought drilled into their brains and now parrot the mantra ad nauseam.  Although on the surface “One Man, One Vote” seems to be fair enough, it was really a manufactured invention of the Supreme Court rather than a constitutional right.  The case which led to this principle was, as hinted at above, Reynolds v. Sims.  Prior to this case, many states apportioned representatives to the upper house of their legislature (most often called Senators) based partially or wholly upon county boundaries so that each county was given at least one.  The Supreme Court thought this idea was unconstitutional.  The justices, in their decision, drew upon the first section of the 14th Amendment.  It reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” They took this text to mean that if a citizen of one county’s vote was not roughly equal (when considering population) to that of a citizen of another county, then they both do not have equal protection under the law.  Although the Alabama Constitution required for each county in the state to have a representative, the justices declared that “one man, one vote” trumped the state law.  This idea was further enhanced and clarified in 1964 with Wesberry v. Sanders.

Now an astute observer of the Constitution might ask, how can the Supreme Court rule in issues like apportionment?  Is that a power granted to the court?  The answer, like unfortunately so many others, was that the court itself decided that it had that power.  When the watchdogs have no oversight above them, this sort of things is bound to happen.  In a previous ruling, Baker v. Carr, 1962, the court granted itself the power to oversee reapportionment when beforehand it had been the authority of the states, not the federal government and its courts.  It was yet another shameful example of how the 10th Amendment has been cast aside and federalism has been, and continues to be, undermined.

Another question you should ask yourself is, does the principle of “one man, one vote” have roots in our Constitution and history?  The answer is, not really. Now it is true that representation to the House of Representatives is based largely upon the population of each state, and therefore somewhat resembles “one man, one vote”, but the comparison really ends there.  For the record, when it comes to the House of Representatives, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 reads, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.”

Look you might say, that’s pretty close to “one man, one vote”, but look closer at the text.  See the line “including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons”?  That comes from the 3/5ths compromise of 1787.  The issue of the 3/5ths compromise came about before the ratification of the Constitution resulting from the issue of slavery.  Should slaves count as persons for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives?  Personally, I don’t think so, as it is one of the many hypocrisies of slavery.  How can a person be denied so many freedoms that are enjoyed by man in his natural state (life, liberty, and property) and still be counted as a person?  If one is treated like chattel, should your masters enjoy the benefits of you counting as both a person and property?  From the moment of your birth to your eventual death, chances are that you will never be able to vote, so how can you truly be represented?  Nevertheless, the delegates to the Convention disagreed and settled upon counting slaves as 3/5ths of a person for enumeration.  I ask you, does this compromise embody the ideals of “one man, one vote”?  I think you would agree that it certainly does not.  Let’s move on to the issue of the United States Senate.

Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1, of the Constitution of these United States reads, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”  Now is that “one man, one vote”?  Of course it is not.  If each state is given two Senators, and thus two votes, the opinion of a citizen in a small state carries much more weight than that of a large state.  For example, in the 2000 Census Wyoming had a population of 515,004, while California had 36,457,549, thus a citizen from Wyoming has roughly seventy times more influence in the Senate than a Californian.  The Senate certainly does not follow “One Man, One Vote”, but that was intentional.  When the Constitution was created, large states (like Virginia) wanted representation in both the House and Senate to be based upon populations.  Smaller states (like New Jersey) wanted each state to have the same number of votes.  Each of the two states created a plan to benefit their own interests and thus neither was acceptable to the other.  The end result of this wrangling was the Connecticut Compromise, which created the House of Representatives based upon population and the Senate based upon state equality.  The question now becomes, how is it that representation in United States Senate resting upon the equality of the states is Constitutional while representation in the upper houses of state legislatures based on legal and geographic areas like counties is not?

When taken in the larger scope of history and the Constitution, I believe that one can clearly see that the representative government of these United States was never truly intended to be under the guise of “one man, one vote”.  The 3/5ths compromise and the representation in the United States Senate clearly illustrate this point.  Are not the states allowed to determine their own rules for representation, even to follow models proscribed in the Federal Constitution?  As long as they adhere to a republican form of government, doesn’t the 10th Amendment afford them that right?  And yet, as was done in other Supreme Court cases (see Roe v. Wade) the court continues to grab power for itself and invent new laws placing itself above the people, the states, and even above the Congress itself.  So, the next time someone spouts the line, “one man, and one vote!” don’t be afraid to challenge him or her.  Sure, they may have the court on their side, but we know the court is not always right.

2 Replies to “The Fallacy of One Man, One Vote”

  1. Your point here and in the blog on 7 July is a very good one. It’s important to remember that this is not a democracy, it’s a Federal Democratic Republic. Or, perhaps one could call it, in the full-blown form, a Constitutional Federal Representative Democratic Republic. I can enumerate what each of those terms represents but I won’t bore you. However, it’s important to note that tempering the will of the majority with the rule of law was a major goal of the constitution, not to empower a privilieged minority, but to ensure that a standard of citizens’ rights would always be upheld regardless of a majority vote. A lot of prople phrase this in terms of the founding fathers being “afraid” of “real democracy,” but I think that’s mis-stating the case. It’s more accurate, I think, to say that they were conscious of the need to see to it that everyone, including the government, was subject to the same set of rules, and that those rules had a set system that determined when and how they could be changed. THe trend these days is to say that laws and Constitutions are “living documents” that can basically be re-interpreted to mean whatever any person may want. But THAT is the real fallacy: when the rules can be changed whenever someone pleases, then they cease to be important – what becomes important is WHO’S MAKING the rules. People who support this kind of system make a lot of noise about representation and American republicanism and how it’s “unfair” and dilutes the “will of the people.” But consider this: in all western history, the Greeks came closest to pure democracy, and they had no checks on the auhtority of the votes they took – they routinely executed and exiled people who had committed no crime other than being unpopular… this was done democratically, of course.

  2. It seems that that this nation may have been built on something better than “one person, one vote” – discernment and compromise. The 3/5ths compromise, as far as I know, was made in an effort to keep the country united in a climate where different areas of the country had very different ideas on whether a slave counted as a representable person. Rather than let a fledgling union dissolve, the founders of our country made a compromise. While both conservative and liberal groups may disagree with the Supreme Court’s rulings from time to time, it is the court’s power of discernment that is an important check on the power of the executive and legislative branches. It seems to me that a group of nine people, appointed by the executive branch and confirmed by the legislative, seems to avoid the will of the popular vote as much as possible.

    I agree with M. Cairo that changing the rules whenever it suits out whims can be very dangerous. Yet I would like to point out that adhering to the principles of state sovereignty, the ‘dead’ Constitution, and secession seem to do just as much damage to the rules as “one person, one vote”. If a state or group believes that they can override the rulings of the larger union, or if they believe they can simply leave a union with which they disagree, then the rules are again nullified and the capricious will of the people (or state, or group) again rules the day. If the Constitution has a carved-in-stone meaning that was developed hundreds of years ago, people who grapple with questions that aren’t addressed expressly in the Constitution will feel a need to fill in the gaps with their own ideas of law and order. The Bill of Rights are themselves amendments to the Constitution that is held in such high esteem, and the process of amendment (though slow and little known in the public sphere) enables the rules to change. While we may disagree on issues as individuals, parties, and voting blocs, it is important to remember that the power of our nation is not in its rigid, one voice outlook, but in its rich diversity and the compromises that this diversity demands and promotes. It is in looking back to the actions of the Founding Fathers, those that include conferencing, compromise, and discernment, that rules regain and maintain their importance and relevance.

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