One man, one vote

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"One man, one vote" (or "one person, one vote") is a slogan that has been used in many parts of the world where campaigns have arisen for universal suffrage. During the 20th-century period of decolonisation and the struggles for national sovereignty, from the late 1940s onwards, this phrase became widely used in less developed countries where majority populations were seeking to gain political power in proportion to their numbers.

The phrase was used in this form in an important legal ruling in the United States, the Supreme Court majority opinion in Reynolds v. Sims (1964). The ruling required redistricting by state legislatures for congressional districts to keep represented populations equal, as well as requiring both houses of state legislatures to have districts drawn that contained roughly equal populations, and to perform redistricting when needed.

United Kingdom[edit]

This phrase was traditionally used in the context of demands for suffrage reform. Historically the emphasis within the House of Commons was on representing areas: counties, boroughs and, later on, universities. The entitlement to vote for the Members of Parliament representing the constituencies varied widely, with different qualifications over time, such as owning property of a certain value, holding an apprenticeship, qualifying for paying the local-government rates, or holding a degree from the university in question. Those who qualified for the vote in more than one constituency were entitled to vote in each constituency, whilst many adults did not qualify for the vote at all. Plural voting was also present in local government, whereby the owners of business property qualified for votes in the relevant wards.

Reformers argued that Members of Parliament and other elected officials should represent citizens equally, and that each voter should be entitled to exercise the vote once in an election. Successive Reform Acts by 1950 had both extended the franchise eventually to almost all adult citizens (barring convicts, lunatics and members of the House of Lords) and also reduced and finally eliminated most of the plural voting for both Westminster and local-government elections.

But, there were two significant exceptions. The City of London had never expanded its boundaries and, with many residential dwellings being replaced by businesses, and the destruction of The Blitz, after the Second World War the financial district had barely five thousand residents altogether. The system of plural voting was retained for electing the City of London Corporation, with some modifications.

Northern Ireland[edit]

When Northern Ireland was established in 1921, it adopted the same political system then in place for the Westminster Parliament and British local government. But, the Parliament of Northern Ireland did not follow Westminster in changes to the franchise. As a result, into the 1960s, plural voting was still allowed for both Parliament and local government. Historians and political scholars have debated the extent to which the franchise for local government contributed to Unionist electoral success in controlling councils in Nationalist-majority areas.[1] When the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was founded in 1967, it had five primary demands. It also adopted a demand, which became just as important, that each citizen in Northern Ireland be afforded the same number of votes for elections. The slogan "one man, one vote" became a rallying cry for this campaign.

The Parliament of Northern Ireland voted to update and came into effect for the next election. These changes, strikingly, took place after the suspension of the Northern Ireland government.[citation needed]

United States[edit]

Historical background[edit]

The United States Constitution requires a decennial census for the purpose of assuring a fair distribution of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. This has generally occurred without incident, with the exception of the 1920 Census. But, within the states, when legislatures established election of representatives from districts which it established, rather than electing them at-large, the question arose as to whether the state legislature (which had responsibility for drawing these congressional districts) was required to see that said districts were equal in population and draw new districts to accommodate demographic changes.

Some states redrew their U.S. House districts every ten years to reflect changes in population patterns; many did not. Some never redrew them, except when it was mandated by a change in the number of seats to which that state was entitled in the House of Representatives. In many states, this led to a skewing of influence for voters in some districts over those in others. For example, if the 2nd congressional district eventually had a population of 1.5 million, but the 3rd had only 500,000, then, in effect — since each district elected the same number of representatives — a voter in the 3rd district had three times the voting "power" of a 2nd-district voter. Alabama's state legislature resisted redistricting from 1910 to 1972 (when forced by federal court order), resulting in rural residents retaining a wildly disproportionate amount of power after some areas of the state became more urban and industrialized. They were markedly underserved.

Additionally, in most U.S. states, electoral districts for seats in the upper house, or Senate, were ostensibly created at least partially on the basis of geography, rather than population. This principle was based on the Great Compromise expressed in the Constitution's plan for the United States Senate, in which each state was equally represented in the Senate with two representatives, without regard to population. The Founding Fathers considered this principle of such importance that they included a clause in the Constitution to prohibit any state from being deprived of equal representation in the Senate without its permission; see Article V of the United States Constitution. For this reason, "one man one vote" has never been implemented in the U.S. Senate, in terms of representation by states.

Often, the base unit for a state senate was originally a county. Whereas lower house seats might or might not be reapportioned on a decennial basis, such as those of the US House of Representatives, in most states, state senate district boundaries were never redrawn. As the United States became more urban, residents in rural counties had disproportionate power in terms of casting votes for state senate seats, over the more numerous urban residents of other counties. A city dweller's vote had less influence on the make-up of the state senate than did a rural resident's. (If population-based representation was in place in the lower house, an urban resident had the same amount of voting power in that realm).

County-based representation had one benefit - it was immune from gerrymandering and the effects of population change. Thus it prevented efforts at population engineering: that is, once a part of a state was populous enough to control the legislature, under one man one vote, it can implement policies to drive people out of areas controlled by the opposition and cement the power of the localized majority. Since the senate's representation was immovable regardless of population, the affected parties would theoretically have enough power in that chamber to stop any further damage.

Warren Court decisions[edit]

In various reapportionment cases decided by the US Supreme Court in the 1960s, notably Wesberry v. Sanders, Reynolds v. Sims, and Baker v. Carr, the court ruled that districts for the United States House of Representatives, and for the legislative districts of both houses of state legislatures, had to contain roughly equal populations, and required redistricting to meet this standard. The U.S. Senate was not affected by these rulings, as its makeup was explicitly established in the U.S. Constitution. The cases concerning malapportionment ended the pattern of area-based representation in the U.S. House and state legislatures. Eventually the rulings were extended over local (city) districts as well, as in Board of Estimate of City of New York v. Morris.[2]

Other uses[edit]

Under the 'M.P.V. System', however, no one person or voter has more than one effective vote for one office. No voter's vote can be counted more than once for the same candidate. In the final analysis, no voter is given greater weight in his or her vote over the vote of another voter, although to understand this does require a conceptual understanding of how the effect of a 'M.P.V. System' is like that of a run-off election. The form of majority preferential voting employed in the City of Ann Arbor's election of its Mayor does not violate the one-man, one-vote mandate nor does it deprive anyone of equal protection rights under the Michigan or United States Constitutions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John H. Whyte. "'How much discrimination was there under the Unionist regime, 1921-1968?'". Conflict Archive on the Internet. Retrieved 2007-08-30. 
  2. ^ "The Supreme Court: One-Man, One-Vote, Locally". Time. 1968-04-12. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  3. ^ FairVote - In the news
  4. ^ Stephenson v Ann Arbor Board of Canvassers,, accessed 6 November 2013.
  5. ^ Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474, 88 S. Ct. 1114, 20 L. Ed. 2d 45 (1968)
  6. ^ Ball v. James, 451 U.S. 355, 101 S. Ct. 1811, 68 L. Ed. 2d 150 (1981)
  7. ^ Bjornestad v. Hulse, 229 Cal. App. 3d 1568, 281 Cal. Rptr. 548 (1991)
  8. ^ Board of Estimate v. Morris, 489 U.S. 688, 109 S. Ct. 1433, 103 L. Ed. 2d 717 (1989)
  9. ^ Hadley v. Junior College District, 397 U.S. 50, 90 S. Ct. 791, 25 L. Ed. 2d 45 (1970)
  10. ^ Hellebust v. Brownback, 824 F. Supp. 1511 (D. Kan. 1993)
  11. ^ Kessler v. Grand Central District Management Association, 158 F.3d 92. (2d Cir. 1998)
  12. ^ Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S. Ct. 136, 12 L. Ed. 2d 506 (1964)
  13. ^ Salyer Land Co. v. Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, 410 U.S. 719 (1973)