What the Map of the United States Would Look Like If All 50 States Had Equal Populations

In the U.S., recent elec­toral events with which we’re all quite famil­iar have prompt­ed one par­tic­u­lar rad­i­cal re-eval­u­a­tion of the polit­i­cal sys­tem, among many oth­ers: we find every­one from high-pro­file Con­sti­tu­tion­al schol­ars to anony­mous com­menters engaged in debates about the neces­si­ty, or demo­c­ra­t­ic legit­i­ma­cy, of the Elec­toral Col­lege. While the debate may not be new, it has reached an urgent inten­si­ty, and hap­pens to occur at a time when every­thing seems up for grabs. When Neil Free­man pro­posed redraw­ing state bor­ders on his pre­scient­ly-named design site Fake is the New Real back in 2012, he cre­at­ed the map above (view it in a larg­er for­mat here) to even­ly dis­trib­ute the country’s pop­u­la­tion. He did so with the dis­claimer, “this is an art project, not a seri­ous pro­pos­al.”

The idea might get a more seri­ous recep­tion these days. Nonethe­less, the iner­tia of tra­di­tion has­n’t less­ened any. Not only is it total­ly unlike­ly that states would ever be redrawn and renamed, but the Elec­toral Col­lege is also a found­ing insti­tu­tion, emerg­ing at the first Con­sti­tu­tion­al Con­ven­tion when James Madi­son first pro­posed it in 1787. Since then, PBS’s Kamala Kelkar wrote on Novem­ber 6th, 2016, “the Elec­toral Col­lege sys­tem has cost four can­di­dates the race after they received the pop­u­lar vote.” Two days lat­er that num­ber went up to five.

Still, whether one deems it nec­es­sary, super­flu­ous, or deeply per­ni­cious, it’s hard­ly con­tro­ver­sial to note that this elect­ing body comes from an era so unlike our own as to be unrec­og­niz­able. A time when, as some founders argued, writes Akhil Reed Amar at Time, “ordi­nary Amer­i­cans across a vast con­ti­nent [lacked] suf­fi­cient infor­ma­tion to choose direct­ly and intel­li­gent­ly among lead­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.” This might still be the case for var­i­ous rea­sons. But putting aside man­u­fac­tured fil­ter bub­bles and vast dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, most Amer­i­cans now have instant access, if they want it, to more infor­ma­tion than they know what to do with.

When we look at the pri­ma­ry sources, we find the actu­al rea­son for the Elec­toral Col­lege: slav­ery. Madi­son, notes Kelkar, “now known as the ‘Father of the Con­sti­tu­tion,’” was a slave­hold­ing Vir­gin­ian who wor­ried vocal­ly that North­ern states would have a decid­ed advan­tage, since upwards of 40% of the pop­u­la­tion in South­ern states con­sist­ed of enslaved peo­ple, who, of course, would not be cast­ing votes. Madison’s propo­si­tion includ­ed the infa­mous and dehu­man­iz­ing “three-fifths com­pro­mise,” which his­to­ri­an Paul Finkel­man argues enabled Thomas Jef­fer­son to win over John Adams in 1800.

Despite this his­to­ry, most peo­ple are taught that the sys­tem arose sole­ly to “bal­ance the inter­ests,” Amar writes, “of high-pop­u­la­tion and low-pop­u­la­tion states.” This sounds like a polit­i­cal­ly neu­tral inten­tion. But Free­man doesn’t ques­tion the legit­i­ma­cy of the Elec­toral Col­lege, call­ing it “a time-hon­ored, log­i­cal sys­tem” that he thinks should be pre­served. And yet, he writes, “it’s obvi­ous that reforms are need­ed.”

“The fun­da­men­tal prob­lem of the elec­toral col­lege,” Free­man writes, “is that the states of the Unit­ed States are too dis­parate in size and influ­ence. The largest state is 66 times as pop­u­lous as the small­est and has 18 times as many elec­toral votes. This increas­es the chance for Elec­toral Col­lege results that don’t match the pop­u­lar vote.” This is hard­ly the only issue. But is Freeman’s pro­pos­al a more sta­ble solu­tion to major flaws in U.S. nation­al elec­tions than sim­ply scrap­ping the Elec­toral Col­lege alto­geth­er? He makes the fol­low­ing argu­ment, in a series of bul­let-point­ed advan­tages. His map:

  • Pre­serves the his­toric struc­ture and func­tion of the Elec­toral Col­lege.
  • Ends the over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of small states and under-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of large states in pres­i­den­tial vot­ing and in the US Sen­ate by elim­i­nat­ing small and large states.
  • Polit­i­cal bound­aries more close­ly fol­low eco­nom­ic pat­terns, since many states are more cen­tered on one or two metro areas.
  • Ends vary­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the House. Cur­rent­ly, the pop­u­la­tion of House dis­tricts ranges from 528,000 to 924,000. After this reform, every House seat would rep­re­sent dis­tricts of the same size. (Since the cur­rent size of the House isn’t divis­i­ble by 50, the num­bers of seats should be increased to 450 or 500.)
  • States could be redis­trict­ed after each cen­sus — just like House seats are dis­trib­uted now.

Free­man based the map–featuring new states like “Mesabi,” “Ogal­lala,” “Big Thick­et,” “Chi­nati,” and “King”–on data from the 2010 Cen­sus, which, inci­den­tal­ly, actu­al­ly did change the dis­tri­b­u­tion of elec­tors in 2012. The Cen­sus “records a pop­u­la­tion of 308,745,538 for the Unit­ed States,” he notes, “which this map divides into 50 states, each with a pop­u­la­tion of about 6,175,000.”

He does seem to down­play the dis­ad­van­tages, list­ing only two con­cerns about dupli­cat­ed coun­ty names and a “shift in state laws and pro­ce­dures.” Free­man doesn’t men­tion the high like­li­hood of civ­il war or wide­spread social unrest if such a mas­sive redis­tri­b­u­tion of the country’s state pop­u­la­tions were ever attempt­ed. Giv­en the exam­ples of pitched legal bat­tle fought dai­ly over con­gres­sion­al redis­trict­ing of ger­ry­man­dered states, it’s also prob­a­ble noth­ing like this plan would ever make it through the courts. Con­sid­ered as an “art project” or thought exper­i­ment in civics, how­ev­er, who knows? It just might work….

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sal Khan & the Mup­pets’ Grover Explain the Elec­toral Col­lege

Why Socrates Hat­ed Democ­ra­cies: An Ani­mat­ed Case for Why Self-Gov­ern­ment Requires Wis­dom & Edu­ca­tion

The “True Size” Maps Shows You the Real Size of Every Coun­try (and Will Change Your Men­tal Pic­ture of the World)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Gerald says:

    It is worth remem­ber­ing that the Founders were very much against pure democ­ra­cy. They cre­at­ed a fed­er­al repub­lic which includes many kinds of checks on major­i­ty rule, which they right­ly under­stood could be very dan­ger­ous. Their sys­tem has served well for over two hun­dred years, and thus we ought to be very care­ful about tin­ker­ing with it.

    Your point regard­ing the “dehu­man­iz­ing” effect of the three-fifths com­pro­mise miss­es the mark. While slav­ery itself — a con­di­tion that was the norm glob­al­ly until rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly in his­to­ry — was dehu­man­iz­ing, the three-fifths com­pro­mise was not. It was the south­ern states, the advo­cates of the slave sys­tem, that want­ed slaves to be ful­ly count­ed to increase south­ern state rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Con­gress. This would have had the effect of per­pet­u­at­ing slav­ery by increas­ing the polit­i­cal clout of the south­ern states. By con­trast, the north­ern states did not want slaves to be count­ed at all in deter­min­ing state pop­u­la­tion and thus con­gres­sion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The north­ern states’ posi­tion, there­fore, would have weak­ened the insti­tu­tion of slav­ery. Thus, this post has it back­wards — the most dehu­man­iz­ing result would have been to ful­ly count the slave pop­u­la­tion and thus increase the polit­i­cal pow­er of the advo­cates of slav­ery.

  • James Hayes-Bohanan says:

    Thanks for shar­ing this. It gave me a lot to think about, and to share with my geog­ra­phy stu­dents and oth­er read­ers.


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