Essay:The Electoral College and slavery
The Electoral College was created to protect the interest of slave holders and has therefore no place in modern America.
What is the Electoral College?
The Electoral College is the body that actually elects the President. It has 538 members, equal to the number of representatives (435) Senators (100) plus three more for Washington DC combined. With the exception of two states (Nebraska and Maine) that allocate their electoral votes by the winner of the popular vote in each congressional district (plus the remaining two for the statewide winner), the candidate who wins the popular vote in any given state receives all the electoral votes. However, it is important to remember that those electoral votes are given to actual people who can - and do - vote for anyone they choose, so in theory the electoral college could choose any person they want for President, completely ignoring the will of the people.
Was it always that way?
No. In the Antebellum era, many states did not allocate their electoral vote on the statewide winner-take-all basis. Instead they either appointed them through the legislature or the governor or they drew special districts, each voting for one elector, or numerous other ways. By the end of the Civil War, however, most states had converged upon the system in use today.
The three fifths compromise
At the constitutional convention, a lot of contentious issues arose, but perhaps the most (in)famous was the issue of slavery. The Northern states had fewer or no slaves by that point and many were already fairly certain that slavery was on its way out at least in their state. On the other hand the Southern states had many slaves and were convinced it would stay that way at least for the foreseeable future. To ensure continued Southern domination, several provisions were written into the constitution. First, a gag rule on even discussing the end of the slave trade was included, but there was a date after which this rule did not apply and in the first congressional session in which they could, the USA did indeed abolish the importation of new slaves. Second, the Senate[note 1] was created, ostensibly to "protect smaller states", so ironically slave-holding Virginia was initially skeptical whereas some small free states in the North were very supportive of such a plan. But the most pressing was the issue of how to allocate Congressional representation. While the Articles of Confederation were in place the Southern states were adamant that slaves were not people and thus should not count towards population totals, because the only thing population totals did was determine the share of the federal budget the states had to supply (even though they never actually did meet those obligations to their full extent). Now however with a chamber representing "the people" (white male property owners) planned under the new system of government having a large population became suddenly very desirable. So the South declared, why of course slaves are people at the very least for census purposes and thus they should be counted fully towards proportional representation. In the deliberations that were lost to history because no protocol was kept, some horse-trading ensued and ultimately an agreement was reached: Slaves would be counted, but at three-fifths of a person. Like most compromises, this satisfied neither side, but it was good enough for the constitution to be ratified. It is still unknown whether three-fifths of slaves are human, or if three-fifths of each slave is human.
The electoral college
Now the same people who had ensured that their slaves would boost their share of the vote needed to ensure that the President would also be chosen under a system advantageous to them. Simply tallying the votes of all people equally would not give them the "bonus" they received from being slaveholders and worse yet, populist states could simply "dilute" the influence of the Southern slave aristocracy by giving the vote to "the rabble", free blacks or even women. So some system had to be found. Simply giving Congress the right to vote for the President would have been elegant but a) it smacked too much of British parliamentarianism and b) there was no way to control the congressional delegation in all respects. Remember, many Southern states simply appointed their electors via state legislature in the first couple of presidential elections. So the weird formula (at the time even excluding DC and to this day excluding Puerto Rico) was found to ensure maximum slaveholder dominance.
Just look at the biography of the first 14 Presidents. Almost all of them were either slaveowners themselves or were openly sympathetic to the South and slavery. In many elections both parties had a pro-slavery candidate. When the Republican Party emerged threatening slave power (not even slavery itself, just the outsize influence of the people owning other people as cattle) the South rebelled and created a civil war. Unfortunately, while slave power was broken, Southern racist influence remained strong. As the new system counted blacks as full people but the South soon disenfranchised almost all African-Americans and many poor whites, the vote of a southern (white) voter had much more influence than it would have had under a popular vote system. Furthermore, the Democratic Party soon instituted a two-thirds rule for nominating conventions meaning that the President had to get the votes of two-thirds of all delegates, which by default included a lot of Southern delegates who thus could veto any candidate they did not like. All of this did enduring harm to race relations as any even remotely enlightened stance on civil rights could be blocked by this southern racist bloc.
When the reign of Southern racists over the Democratic Party started breaking down in the 1940s, a Southern walkout led by future Republican Strom Thurmond created what is today known as the "Dixiecrat" movement. Southern white racist Democrats ran on their own ticket in presidential elections mostly to garner the Southern white racist vote. Under a national popular vote system none of those candidates would have mattered as five to ten percent of the national popular vote is impressive but not more than Ross Perot got in 1992. However, under this system, they could reasonably hope to create an electoral college deadlock, which would have thrown the election to the House of Representatives where the votes would again be tallied by state, once more greatly benefiting Southern interests.
The Electoral College was created by slaveowners to protect their interests and it benefits racist candidates to this day. It is high time we got rid of it.
Notas de pie
- much like the electoral college, the manner in which Senators were chosen was initially left to the states; for instance in the 1858 race for Illinois senator between Abraham Lincoln and Steven A Douglas, there was a popular vote, but it was irrelevant as the Illinois legislature overruled the pro-Lincoln vote to hand the job to Douglas. This oversight was fixed with the seventeenth amendment in 1913, at the height of the Progressive era and almost contemporaneous with the sixteenth amendment establishing a federal income tax which was the first amendment to the constitution since Reconstruction