Narada News Exclusive: US Electoral College system, rooted in slavery, still enslaves, critics say
Many Americans unfamiliar with the arcane Electoral College system have begun reading about it since it elevated Donald Trump to the presidency — and have learned the ugly truth that it was rooted in slavery. Because the system disproportionately favours smaller-population conservative states in the South and Midwest, some contend it has led to a new kind of slavery: The enslavement of the majority of those who cast their ballots for president.
Here’s what they mean by the new slavery:
Although Hillary Clinton is projected to win the popular vote by more than 2 million ballots, the Electoral College system has already bestowed the presidency on Donald Trump. Making Trump’s victory doubly galling for moderates and progressives is that this is the second time in 16 years that a Republican has become president while losing the popular vote. The other one to pull it off was George W. Bush in 2000.
Vote counting is still going on in Democratic meccas like California, which is toting up provisional and absentee ballots. As the counts progress, Clinton’s nationwide popular-vote total grows — but it doesn’t matter.
Even if she won the California vote by 10 million ballots, the outcome of the election would be the same. That’s because California’s 55 electoral votes, while the highest in the Electoral College, can’t make up for the combined electoral votes of a boatload of states in the South and Midwest.
Those who wrote the American Constitution in 1787 opted for an Electoral College system rather than the president being elected by popular vote to convince slave-holding states to ratify the document.
Direct election of the president would have made it difficult for Southern states, which had a lot fewer voters than Northern states, to get Southerners in the White House. At the time, only white men could vote, and the number of white men in Southern states, where there were large numbers of slaves, was much smaller than in Northern states. So the framers of the Constitution decided that the number of electors who could cast ballots for president in each state would be based on the state’s population — with a twist.
For Electoral College purposes, the population of states with slaves would consist of all the whites in the states AND two-thirds of the slaves — even though the slaves would be unable to vote.
The Electoral College system was such a good deal for one Southern state that it dominated the presidency for a third of a century. “For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency,” noted Yale University constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar.
The North’s victory in the Civil War in 1865 ended the Electoral College slave-population bonus. But the system retained a small-state bias, making it possible for a candidate to win the presidency while losing the popular vote.
Trump is the fifth minority-popular-vote president. Besides Bush, the others were John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Benjamin Harrison in 1888. Under the Electoral College system, a state starts with two electoral votes — one for each of its senators.
The 50 states divide the other 435 electoral votes by population, with bigger states getting more votes. Thus, heavily populated Texas gets 38 electoral votes while lightly populated Nebraska gets five. The Electoral College proportional-population formula is the same one the United States uses to decide how many of the 435 House seats each state gets.
The United States also allots three electoral votes for the District of Columbia, so there are 538 electoral votes in total. Here’s an example of the Electoral College system’s small-state bias: California has 39 million people, almost 20 times Nebraska’s 2 million. Yet California’s Electoral Vote total of 55 is only 11 times larger than Nebraska’s 5, not 20 times larger, as their population differences would suggest.
Given this bias, if presidential candidates can get enough small and medium-sized states in their camp, they can win the presidency with little or no big-state support. That was Trump’s formula. He won most small-electoral-vote Southern and Midwestern states and a few big ones.
Will the United States ever replace a voting system that is so biased toward small states with a direct-popular-vote system?
Maybe, but it would require a Herculean effort. Three-fourths of the states would need to ratify a constitutional change for it to take effect, and the Southern and Midwestern states that the Electoral College benefits would be slitting their throats in doing so.
Because minority groups in the United States overwhelmingly vote Democratic, as the country’s non-white population rises, there’s a good chance there will be an increase in the number of presidents who lose the popular vote. It would take a lot of anger over that pattern to galvanize a successful effort to amend the Constitution. In the meantime, Electoral College critics say a system rooted in slavery will continue to enslave those who cast the most votes for a president but still see their candidate lose.