India and the United States are the two largest democracies in the world. They also have something else in common. Both systems have biases that make some voters significantly more valuable than others in electing national leaders.
In India, where an election is currently taking place, a 1976 rule made it so that the number of members representing each state in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, is fixed based on the state’s population as of 1971. The rule was created to promote population control. Politicians at the time wanted families to have fewer children, and felt that states shouldn’t lose political power if they met that goal. The party that controls the Lok Sabha in India is able to selects the prime minister, the most powerful figure in the country.
The 1976 rule has had the effect of diluting the power of states that grew quickly over the past 50 years; those are mostly located in the poorer northern part of the country. Today, in the states of Rajasthan, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh, one Lok Sabha member represents about around 3 million people, while in the slow-growing states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, a member represents fewer than 2 million people (based on population estimates from 2018). The Lok Sabha has a total of 543 members.
In the US, bias is baked right into the Constitution. In order to make sure that the desires of large states did not dominate those of smaller ones, the US was in 1789 divided into two chambers. In the House of Representatives, the number of members for each state would be proportionate to its population (though every state gets at least one). In the Senate, each state would get exactly two members. When electing the head of the executive branch, the president, the US would use a system in which each state gets as many votes as the combined number of their members of the House of Representatives and Senate. This system is referred to as the electoral college, and ensures that each states gets at least three votes.
As expected, the US’s rules have had the effect of increasing the power of smaller states, and decreasing the power of larger ones. In electing the president, the people from the small states of Wyoming and Vermont get about one vote per every 200,000 people, while people in California, Florida, and Texas get one vote per every 700,000 people (again, based on population estimates from 2018). There are a total of 538 electoral college votes.
So which system is more biased in electing their leader: India’s Parliament or the US’s electoral college? It’s the US, but just by the smallest margin.
To answer the question, we calculated the average difference between the average voters’ influence and what it would be if representation was nationally proportional. In the US, if each person in the country was equally represented in the electoral college, every person would be worth about 0.00016% of one electoral vote. In actuality, the average voter’s value is either about 0.00002% percent below or above this number—14.6% off of proportional representation. In India, with equal representation, one person would be worth about 0.00004% of a Lok Sabha member. The average voter’s actual value is either about 0.000006% below or above this number, a difference about about 13.9%.
Whether you think either of these biases is a problem depends on whether you think they have a reasonable rationale. In both cases though, there is no debating that residents of some states are far more influential than others in determining who runs the country.