“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”—William Faulkner
There is a lot of discussion these days about whether or not the Electoral College is still a viable part of our government. In most of the discussions I have seen there seems to be a lack of understanding of its original purpose.
It is not a good idea to get rid of something unless you know what it was intended to do, why it was created in the first place, and whether or not it still — or for that matter, ever — fulfills that purpose.
The Electoral College primarily had two purposes. The first was to preserve slavery. Not very many Americans understand the impact that the vile institution of slavery had and has on our history and culture.
The College obviously failed in that goal.
The second was to assure that an uneducated electorate did not elect an unfit President. Depending on your politics and humanity, you may or may not feel that it has failed in achieving that goal as well.
When the Constitution was written at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, slavery was one of the main points of contention. The Southern slave owners wanted their slaves counted as population for representation to give them more power and leverage over the more populous North.
The Northerners rightly pointed out that the slaves could not vote, so it hardly seemed fair to count them for representation. The slave owners countered that they represented the interests of the slaves (no doubt one of the most facetious assertions every made) and therefore they should be counted.
The 3/5 Compromise was struck. Black slaves would count as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of establishing representatives in Congress.
The 3/5 Compromise did more than allow agreement on details of representation; it solidified the view of black people that the pro-slavery writers like George Fitzhugh and James Henry Hammond had been busily creating to justify slavery.
Black people were only 3/5ths as human as white people. This was used by the plantation class to convince the poor whites, many of whom lived as badly or worse than some slaves, that they were, indeed superior. It convinced them to fight a war that offered them nothing in return except holding on to that myth.
We see echoes of this today when white folks who lack a pot or a window declare themselves Neo-confederates. So the Electoral College failed in one of it primary purposes more than a hundred years ago. It did not preserve slavery in its original form.
Its second goal, to keep the yokels from electing a fellow yokel by having better people serve as electors, is either a failure or an anachronism. We do not vote for the President or Vice President, we vote for Electors who vote for the President and Vice President.
This system, installed in a time when much of the population was illiterate and uninformed, is no longer logical. There is still some talk these days why we need to keep it which almost always comes from conservatives. Their argument is that if we go to one person, one vote, the urban centers, not generally bastions of conservatism, will elect the President.
To add credence to their concerns, neither George W. Bush nor Donald Trump won the popular vote. The question is shouldn’t the person who gets the most votes win? Majority rule with minority rights is a pillar upon which America was founded.
Some states are taking matters into their own hands, passing laws that their electors must vote for the person who wins the popular vote. There are 11 states constituting 189 electoral votes that have passed this legislation, but it cannot become law until/unless the total reaches 270 electoral votes. Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen.
The upshot is, however, that the days of the Electoral College may be limited.
Nothing lasts forever, and some things should not.
Dr. Cookie Newsom is a retired teacher-professor. Contact her with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.