It is hard to imagine getting rid of a nearly 250-year-old institution that is a fundamental part of our country’s history. Who are we to disparage the hard work and monumental achievement that is the Founding Fathers’ magnum opus, the Constitution? Surely, we are but feeble-minded drones in comparison to such legislative juggernauts.
Yet we did just that. In 1865 the United States ratified the 13th Amendment, formally abolishing slavery — an institution that existed in North America for 256 years. After a civil war fought over slavery nearly tore the union in two, some of our nation’s greatest political minds worked to end a grievous wrong of history. They understood that times change — as does what is considered acceptable. In the 1860s, we as a nation decided that slavery was a reprehensible practice. And we ended it.
In 2021, the Electoral College will mark its 233rd birthday. As we mark this anniversary, let us ask ourselves a couple of questions: Is the Electoral College an unjust system? Should we abandon it in favor of a more representative and equitable voting system? The answer to both these questions is a resounding, unequivocal yes.
In the same way that confederate sympathizers have crafted a fantasy world in which the Confederacy fought for anything other than the preservation of chattel slavery, modern-day supporters of the Electoral College have dreamed up a number of post-hoc rationalizations for maintaining this archaic relic. One of the most prominent examples of these is the idea that the Electoral College protects the rights of smaller, less populous states. That is a solid claim but let us dig a little deeper.
What issue was so important to those smaller, less populous states? What change in policy by a popular majority could be so drastic that you’d want to protect it in perpetuity? As with many questions about how our systems of government work, the answer is of course slavery. The South — and many of our slave-owning Founding Fathers — fearing the rising calls for abolition, sought to enshrine the institution of slavery in our founding documents.
Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution states: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States… determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons… excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
That three-fifths of all other persons — were the Black women and men shackled in bondage. The South used their numbers to bolster those states’ representation in Congress, while denying those very same people basic human dignity and their rightful democratic voice. The Electoral College was a power move by the slave-owning South, plain and simple.
The idea that the Electoral College protects our country from a dangerous populist demagogue is just as ridiculous. The 2016 election is strong evidence for that fact. Some argue that the system discourages candidates from focusing on only the large, populous states, and forces them to acknowledge the thoughts of more rural states.
But is that true? When was the last time you saw a presidential candidate holding a rally in Wyoming, Idaho, or the Dakotas, save for those states’ biggest cities? The Electoral College does not encourage candidates to visit less populous areas, it creates swing states. The 501(c)(3) organization FairVote found that in 2016, 94% of general election campaign events were in 12 states. Two-thirds were in just six states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan). Does that sound like a representative sample?
The Electoral College was designed as an overtly racist, undemocratic and minoritarian institution that stifles the very democratic process which is core to our country’s political character.
How are we supposed to be the shining city on a hill if we are stuck with policies made 250 years ago by slave-owning plutocrats more concerned with maintaining their oppression of Black people and protecting their future profits than the democratic principles our nation was born out of?
If the United States is going to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people — we must do away with the Electoral College.