But a third map (Figure 3) showing the nation’s 3,035 counties in the same color scheme reveals that portraying states as either blue or red obscures much of what we might want to know about the states and the voters who inhabit them. On this map, we see that most of the blue states are in fact mostly red. The reality of vast expanses of red in some of the bluest of states should concern us if we truly care about self-governance.

With each passing election, rural and small town Americans have ever less influence on their state and national governments and ever declining control over the governance of their own communities. Their lives are increasingly controlled from distant state capitals and from the even more distant Washington, D.C., by politicians with little incentive to pay attention to their country cousins. To some extent, their disenfranchisement is the inevitable result of a century of urbanization and economic centralization. But the erosion of self-governance in rural America is also the result of a generally well intentioned but simplistic understanding of democracy and the associated elimination of institutional protections of local democratic governance.

Two ideas have been central to this effective disenfranchisement of rural America. First, that one person/one vote is an inviolable principle of democratic government under the United States Constitution. Second, that the winners of elections owe allegiance only to those who voted for them, no matter how close the margin of victory.