ELECTORAL COLLEGE FOUNDED ON RACISM

The Editors

 

Although we believe that both candidates for President endorse racism, exploitation and war, we don’t deny that they represent different wings of American capitalism and divergent tactics. It is also true that for the second time in the 21st century, 2000 and 2016, the candidate with the largest popular vote lost. (Of course, the real winner was the none of the above vote, made by nearly half of the potential electorate.) The irony is that the long-dominant arm of finance capital, represented by the centrist Democrats like the Clintons and Obama, has twice been a victim to this rigged system. Donald Trump’s overt racism and sexism is not the language they prefer to use, even as they continue mass incarceration, police violence, deportations and resource wars. Better to speak nicely and try to hide the reality from white workers. However, downtrodden unemployed and dispossessed white industrial and agricultural workers could take it no more, and so they either welcomed or were willing to tolerate overt racism in a (futile) search for economic revenge. And the Electoral College, which was invented to guarantee the dominance of the white elite, helped them along. By giving weighted votes to each state on a winner-takes-all basis, this Electoral College system decreases the value of votes in states with a large majority voting one way, ie currently states like New York and California with lots of minority, immigrant and liberal voters.

 

As pointed out by historian Christopher Petrella (http://www.aaihs.org/author/cpetrella/)

“…[T]he Electoral College is responsible for the fact that four of the first five U.S. presidents were white, slave-holding men from Virginia. The “Virginia” variable is key here, as Virginia held the largest population of enslaved black men, women, and children from the inception of the “peculiar institution” until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

In 1787, white men of status met in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution. Questions of elections, taxation, and governance, among others, were debated vigorously. One of the most contentious themes considered over the course of the four-month convention was by what process to elect a president.

Two months into the meeting, Pennsylvania lawyer James Wilson proposed direct election of the president. Some delegates lamented that an “uneducated” populace would be incapable of the sort of self-governance required to ensure a salutary direct democracy. Such an elitist concern, however, was not what occupied the minds of most delegates, and especially those from the South. James Madison—a slaveholder from Virginia—worried that such a system would compromise the political influence of the slaveholding South, a region of the country that on a eligible voter population-basis would nearly always lose to the North in a direct election system. Madison opined: “There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors [through the Electoral College] obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to fewest objections.”

In a direct election system, the North would have outnumbered the South (which had a large population but far fewer eligible voters), whose roughly 550,000 enslaved black people were disenfranchised. Delegates from the South generally supported Madison’s idea of the Electoral College over a direct election system because it was based solely on population volume, not citizenship status or enfranchisement. In conjunction, and at Madison’s urging, the convention agreed to count each enslaved black person as three-fifths of a citizen for the purpose of calculating each state’s representation in the Electoral College and in the allotment of congressional seats.

Colonial Virginia won big under the Electoral College system: the state occupied 12 of the 46 electoral votes (26 percent) needed to win an election in the first round. (As a reference point, such disproportionate overrepresentation would be tantamount to present-day California enjoying 70 electoral votes.) Whereas the Electoral College artificially enhanced the political influence of the South, it deflated the political influence of the North. After the 1800 census, for instance, Pennsylvania had 10 percent more free persons than Virginia, but had 20 percent fewer electoral votes. According to legal historian Akhil Reed Amar, “Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved North, the state could actually lose electoral votes.” Simply stated, the Electoral College incentivized the institution of slavery; it was created to protect and propagate the enslavement of black people. The Electoral College operationalized the 3/5ths compromise and helped to secure, extend, and enhance the political power of the white slaveholding class whose epicenter at the end of the eighteenth century was Virginia.…”

 

Of course, the editors of this blog would question whether any solution is to be found in choosing between two representatives of the capitalist class. No poor or working person who believes that profit-making should not be the engine of society would ever be able to obtain significant electoral office. When even mild reformers like Sanders gain headway, they are quickly manipulated off the stage. When critics of American capitalism gain power in countries the US wishes to control, they are disposed of, directly as in Chile, or indirectly, as currently in Brazil. Our job is to build grassroots movements uniting women and men of all races and nationalities in a movement for egalitarianism, relying on ourselves and not politicians.

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