April 10, 2008
Demand the Popular Vote
Today's youth are more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before. This unprecedented diversity of Millenial's (pdf) though is not fully present at the voting booth, because of our antiquated Electoral College system.
After people of color and women won their right to vote, women have voted in high numbers, outvoting young men since 1972. Young people of color, on the other hand, still lag behind their white counterparts when it comes to voter turnout.
This voting gap between young people of color and whites highlights the problem with today's strategic electoral campaigning in 'swing states' -- a product of the Electoral College system.
Way back in 1972, black youth turnout was a modest 43 percent, 14 percentage points behind their white counterparts. Voting data on other youth subgroups came later revealing that Latino youth turnout was 32 percent in 1976; Asian and Native American youth had turnout rates of 37 and 36 percent, respectively, in 1992. (pdf)
Since the baseline years -- when turnout for specific subgroups was recorded for the first time -- voting trends among subgroups varies; only young African Americans and Latinos demonstrating an upward trend. Despite that trend, especially considering the large gains in voter turnout among young African Americans, all communities of color still voted at lower rates than their white counterparts in 2004.
In the context of the Electoral College, geography explains some of the reason that this voting gap persists. Born out of American federalism -- a system in which the power to govern is shared between the national and state governments -- the Electoral College was intended to prevent the tyranny of the majority by protecting the sovereignty of small states. But, that also came into existence at the same time that women and people of color (many who weren't 'free' or regarded as citizens!) were not allowed to vote.
The population of today's communities of color are concentrated primarily in uncontested states. While the African American and Latino youth voting blocs are large (and growing, as the case is for Latinos), they are concentrated in several uncontested states, such as Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, California, New York and the District of Columbia among others.
The Asian American voting bloc is smaller, but it's constrained by its concentration in a few large, uncontested states such as California and New York -- two states that are relatively "safe" for Democratic candidates, therefore attracting little media attention and campaign interest from either party.
The diffusion of Native American youth shows another way that people of color are disadvantaged in the Electoral College. They are a small percentage of the overall youth population, like Asian Americans, but they are spread throughout many states. Targeting this population is difficult, because many young people are leaving reservations for increasing educational and employment opportunities outside of reservations.
Retiring the Electoral College and having the popular vote decide the presidential elections will engage more young people of color into politics. 'One person, one vote' means candidates must speak to everyone, not just those in key "swing" states.
Young women, on the other hand, are not constrained by geography -- with a large enough population that is spread throughout all the states and the District of Columbia. As a result, today's candidates have to appeal to them regardless of where they campaign and are now more representative of women's views than in the past.
The Millennial's activism and interest in this election could be harnessed for the larger voting rights movement. The popular vote encourages presidential candidates to reach out to all voters, and ends the current 'swing state' strategy encouraged by the Electoral College. Advocacy groups prioritizing voter turn out among communities of color could amplify their efforts with a nationwide campaign demanding popular vote.
Spread the word and fight to be heard. One person equals one vote.