The Devil’s in the Details: Evaluating the One Person, One Vote Principle in American Politics

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

The Devil’s in the Details: Evaluating the One Person, One Vote Principle in American Politics


  • Jeffrey W. Ladewig Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut, 365 Fairfield Way, Storrs, CT 06269, USA
  • Seth C. McKee Department of Political Science, Texas Tech University , 113 Holden Hall, Lubbock, TX 79409, USA


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Abstract:  Ever since the Supreme Court instituted the one person, one vote principle in congressional elections based on its decision in Wesberry v. Sanders (1964), intrastate deviations from equal district populations have become smaller and smaller after each decennial reapportionment. Relying on equal total population as the standard to meet the Court’s principle, though, has raised some constitutional and practical questions stemming from, most basically, not every person has the right to vote. Specifically, there is considerable deviation between the current redistricting practices and a literal interpretation of this constitutional principle. This study systematically analyzes the differences between districts’ total populations and their voting age populations (VAPs). Further, we consider how congressional reapportionments since 1972 would change if, instead of states’ total populations, the standard for reapportioning seats were based on the VAP or the voting eligible population (VEP). Overall, the results indicate that the debate surrounding the appropriate apportionment and redistricting standard is not just normative, it also has notable practical consequences.

Keywords:  equal population; malapportionment; reapportionment; redistricting; U.S. House elections; voting eligible population; voting age population

Published:   14 April 2014


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v2i1.18


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