How much power have white men really lost?

Women and the descendants of enslaved people* can now vote, too.

The Supreme Court just made a momentous decision about voting rights. I started thinking, so how much power did white men lose when they had to start sharing votes with the rest of us?

To determine how much power white men lost, I used the change in the proportion of their vote to representation. The idea is that if 100 people vote for a congressperson, each person has 1% power over who wins. If 1000 people vote for a congressperson, each person has 0.1% power over who wins. Thus, if someone was 1/100 and then became 1/1000, they would have experienced .001/.01 change or now have 10% of the power they previously had.

I did the math using census data from 1790 and 2010. I compared voting populations to the number of representatives. I chose to look at two states: Massachusetts and Virginia*. In Massachusetts, the 1790 census recorded zero enslaved people. In Virginia, the 1790 census recorded 292,627 enslaved people, and each of them was counted as three fifths of a person to determine how many congressmen Virginia would have. This gave a white man in Virginia more power in his vote compared to a white man in Massachusetts by a 17% increase.

The numbers used to compare the power of each vote by a white man in 1790 versus 2010

In 2010, a white man in Massachusetts has 38% of the voting power that he had in 1790. In 2010, a white man in Virginia has 33% of the voting power that he had in 1790. The power that his vote for his representative in Congress represents has decreased by two thirds, because women, descendants of enslaved people, and everyone else can now vote in Virginia along with him.

For those who want all of the details, I’ll write out the math in English. I divided the number of congressmen apportioned to the state by the number of voters counted in the census because congressmen were and are (although they are now both genders) apportioned based on the census numbers. In 1796, Massachusetts had 14 congressmen apportioned to it and 95,453 white men counted in the 1790 census who could vote for them (in 1790, they counted men over 16 and under 16, I assume this had some relation to voting rights, although I did not confirm this). 14 divided by 95,453 equals 0.00015 or 1.5 x 10^-4. In 1796, Virginia had 19 congressmen apportioned to it and 110,936 white men counted in the 1790 census voted for them. 19 divided by 110,936 equals 0.00017 or 1.7 x 10^-4. In 2010, Massachusetts had 9 congresspeople apportioned to it, and 1,967,692 white men over the age of 18. I calculated the number of white men over the age of 18, from census numbers on white males who are not Hispanic and the number of white people under the age of 18 (which I multiplied by the proportion of white people divided by white males to determine approximately how many were male). 9 divided by 1,967,692 equals 0.0000045 or 4. x 10^-6. In 2010, Virginia had 11 congresspeople apportioned to it, and 2,040,707 white men over the age of 18 (determined in the same way for Massachusetts). 11 divided by 2,040,707 equals 5.4x 10^-6.

To determine the change in their proportion of power, I looked at the ratio of power in Massachusetts 1790 to power in 2010 or 1.5 x 10^-4 / 4.6 x 10^-6 which equals 38% or in Massachusetts, white men of voting age have 38% of the power in 2010 that they had in 1790. In Virginia, those numbers are 1.7 x 10^-6 / 5.4 x 10^-6, or 33%. In Virginia, white men of voting age have 33% of the power in 2010 that they had in 1790.

I also determined that in 1790, white men in Virginia had 17% more power than white men in Massachusetts. 1.7 x 10^-4 / 1.5 x 10^-4 equals 117%. Oddly, despite the removal of the 3/5 rule, this ratio remained almost the same in 2010. 4.6 x 10^-6 / 5.4 x 10^-6 equals 118%.

*Note 1: I am using the term enslaved person instead of slave based on the vocabulary of freedom, as described in the Underground Railroad Education Center. I am still using "slave" where it was used in the original text.

*Note 2: Finding and interpreting the census data took more time than I expected. I can do more dates(1860, 1870, 1910, 1920) and more states (I have already found intriguing differences between North and South Carolina)... Should I?

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