Friday, November 11, 2016

Slavery and the Electoral College

Few Americans understand why the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College phenomenon:  it can literally be traced back to James Madison and his fellow Southerners' concern that their influence in selecting the nation's chief executive would be diminished because of the North's greater population.  Hence, they came up with what was called The Three Fifths Compromise:  the 1787 Constitutional delegates allowed states to count each slave as three-fifths of a person.  Essentially, this guaranteed that the more rural states, namely the Southern states, would not be at a disadvantage: they could use their sizable ownership of slaves to influence a Presidential election (we must remember that even Thomas Jefferson, the primary architect of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, owned slaves).

Moreover, the Founders also had concerns about what they termed "qualified" voters:  they feared that uninformed citizens--certainly not themselves--would not make intelligent decisions when casting votes for President and Vice President.  Consequently, what eventually became the Electoral College was viewed as a means to control who gets to vote and how much weight should be given to such votes.  Thus, less populated states were given more input in the national election process despite their smaller number of "qualified" white voters (they benefited from slave labor and slave ownership).  Of course, the Electoral College has been modified since its inception, but the initial impulse that drove its creation has prevented America from becoming a true democracy:  We can never become a "one person, one vote" reality until we do away with the Electoral College.

Some defenders of the Electoral College suggest that the institution's existence acts as a safety valve to prevent or save the country from electing a potential tyrant or dictator (though a number of states have passed laws that literally require their Electoral College electors to vote for the winners of their states' popular votes; only two states, Nebraska and Maine, require proportional electoral votes based on the popular vote tallies).  But, considering what we've witnessed so far from President-Elect Donald Trump, his insulting, divisive campaign rhetoric could easily self-define him as probably the most tyrannical, dictatorial-driven President-Elect to ever surface in America.  Even the most recent Republican Presidents, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr., and the last Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, couldn't endorse Mr. Trump.  When a person like Mr. Trump embodies racism, sexism, and xenophobia, those "qualified" electors can do their fellow citizens a public service by denying their imprimatur and finally illustrate why the Electoral College can be useful.

But the chances of those electors saving us from Mr. Trump are nil--and hence why Americans should demand an end to the Electoral College.  We should finally grow up and trust the public to directly elect our Presidents--we already do so with respect to governors, senators, and literally all other political leaders.  After all, even Russia elects their President via a popular vote.  If we can't do likewise, then how can we promote democracy around the world without sounding like hypocrites?

1 comment:

J.L. Navarro said...

This came up after the Bush-Gore match. People grumbled, but in the end, it was dropped. Same thing will probably happen this time. In any case, there was a reason for the founding fathers to use the electoral system, even though it never satisfactorily worked for them. The system has evolved to what we have today. And it leaves you wondering if a "real" democracy would allow it in the first place. But if history repeats itself here, the squabble will soon be forgotten.