Published Work: Political Sociology

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Periodic Discordance Between Vote Equality and Representational Equality in the United States

Cowan, Sarah K

Published in Sociological Science 2:442-453 (2015)
American democracy has two central values that are often in tension: vote equality, that each vote has equal influence, and representational equality, that each elected official represents equal numbers of people. The electoral standard of “one person, one vote” ensures representational equality, and that often ensures vote equality. This relationship fails, however, under certain demographic conditions, namely, when a large, non-enfranchised population resides unevenly across jurisdictions. Then, representational equality is preserved and vote equality is violated. Prior to women’s suffrage, for example, western states had relatively fewer women than the remainder of the country, contributing to gross vote inequality, though rectified through extension of the franchise. Given recent high rates of immigration to some states, I ask whether the two values are in tension. I find that they are, and quantify the electoral consequences of this disjuncture at 13 House seats in 2010.

This work was cited in the Democratic National Committee’s amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case Evenwel v. Abbott. This research is also covered by Huffington Post.

Category: Political Sociology