Racism Behind the Electoral College, and Why the Popular Vote Matters

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Photo courtesy of cbsnews.com

Our country lacks a popular vote, one that actually captures each and every voter’s voice and will. The Electoral College decides who wins the presidency, and it was created not only from an elitist point of view but a racist, slave-owning view of governing.  

Even in 2020, the Electoral College still upholds this old form of white supremacy, causing Blacks and Latino votes to be silenced, overpowered by the will of electors. 

As the election approaches and we fear that yet another Republican candidate or unfit-to-rule president wins the Electoral College vote but loses the popular vote, you may wonder why this racist voting system is still around. The answer: because it’s nearly impossible to get rid of it, though we’re still trying.

In this emotionally intense era of Black Lives Matter, two centuries after the Electoral College’s founding, the American people are politically fed up again. This insurgence wants to take down an old voting system that isn’t working anymore. Not that it ever did. Americans are demanding the popular vote as law, and this fight will continue in this country until this system is abolished like slavery was. 

Who was it created for?

Those who support it argue that it protects minority groups’ interests, whether they’re geographical or racial. But anyone who has read their history books knows that the founding fathers were trying to appease the Southern states that owned slaves at the time. The Electoral College was a way of finding a solution to a problem in an antiquated United States where slaves and their masters still existed. 

“In a direct election system, the South would have lost every time because a huge percentage of its population was slaves, and slaves couldn’t vote. But an Electoral College allows states to count slaves, albeit at a discount (the three-fifths clause), and that’s what gave the South the inside track in presidential elections,” Akhil Reed Amar, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, told Vox. 

Democrats often feel swindled

The Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton or Al Gore back in the day, two candidates who lost to Republicans (who historically are generally favored by the electoral vote), feel downright robbed of their voice. Hillary would have won by a large margin if it had been a one person, one vote voting system. But it’s not. 

What if this happens again in 2020?

Did the founding fathers of this country really know what they were doing when they created this system that no one else on the planet has even tried to emulate because of its scratch-your-head complexity? The United States remains the only country in the world with an Electoral College.

Those in favor of this system argue that the founding fathers were concerned that one day the hot-blooded masses would fall under the spell of a pompous and egoistical politician and that the Electoral College’s stopgap measure would allow for more cool-headed elites of the college to choose their chief executive wisely. 

Evidently, that stopgap system failed us again four years ago.

Yet to Jennifer C. Braceras, director of Independent Women’s Law Center and a former member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the Electoral College is far from being racist. To her, it is seen as a system that protects the interests of anyone in the minority.  

“By contrast, a nationwide popular vote would be, as Ben Franklin purportedly said about democracy, “like two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for lunch.” Anyone who wants to protect the lamb should favor keeping the Electoral College,” Braceras told the Boston Globe.

How it was supposed to work but doesn’t

When we go and place our vote, we are actually voting for our state’s slate of electors. Based on the number of representatives it has in Congress, each state is allotted electors. A candidate needs an absolute majority of electors, meaning 270 or more, to win the Electoral College. The presidential race usually comes down to several electors in one or two key states known as swing states. These states hold an excessive amount of power relative to the size of its actual population to decide who becomes president. 

The Electoral College touts fair representation for all citizens across the country because the founding fathers feared that the power of urban population centers like in California or New York would overshadow the entire nation’s rural voices. This is why the capital of New York State is in Albany, and California chose Sacramento over Los Angeles. Their logic was that if the government were in the major urban centers of states, it might be interested in the city’s needs first, and the rural areas would come second. 

In AOC’s Words: The Electoral College Is Racist

In 2019 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the Electoral College a racist ‘scam’ on her Instagram page. “Due to severe racial disparities in certain states, the Electoral College effectively weighs white voters over voters of color, as opposed to a ‘one person, one vote’ system where all our voters are counted equally,” she wrote. 

She also pointed to data from a New York magazine story that showed how the Electoral College underrepresented African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters compared with white Americans. In her opinion, defenders of the Electoral College should advocate the inclusion of Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories, “aka colonies” that do not have electoral votes.

When it comes to Election Day, all roads lead to the magic number of 270 through the will and voices of Black and Latino voters. Every single vote matters. To quote AOC’s words on Twitter: “It is well past time we eliminate the Electoral College, a shadow of slavery’s power on America today that undermines our nation as a democratic republic.”