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Home / Tips and Tricks / The electoral college has raised questions for centuries. Some have linked it to white supremacy

The electoral college has raised questions for centuries. Some have linked it to white supremacy



The prospect of it happening again this year has sparked yet another campaign to abolish the electoral college in favor of a simple majority.

However, the electoral college has proven resilient and constitutional requirements make it difficult to change or remove. Here’s why it was so polarizing.

Some say the electoral college ignores the will of the people

The electoral college has been part of the constitution since this founding document came into force in 1789. Changes to his system require an amendment to the constitution.
The founding fathers established it as a compromise between a referendum and a vote in Congress. Under its system, each state receives a number of voters proportional to its population: for example, California, the most populous state, has 55 votes, while Wyoming, the least populous state, has only 3.
Protesters demonstrate against President-Elect Donald Trump on November 1[ads1]3, 2016 in Philadelphia.

All but two states – Maine and Nebraska – all cast their votes to the presidential candidate who wins the referendum in that state. Whichever candidate wins the majority of votes nationwide – at least 270 – becomes president.

Three times in the 19th century, the popular vote winner missed the presidency after falling short on electoral college, leading to complaints that the system was ignoring the will of the people.

Over the years, more than 700 proposals to amend or remove the electoral college have been tabled in Congress. Congress nearly got rid of it about 50 years ago when a 1969 proposal to replace it with a referendum system was passed in the House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate the following year.

The urge to replace him intensified after the bitter presidential election of 2000, when Al Gore won the referendum by more than half a million votes, but lost the election to George W. Bush after the Supreme Court held a Florida recount, the decisive state, had stopped.

Judge Robert Rosenberg uses a magnifying glass to examine a punch card vote during a recount in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. On Nov. 24, 2000.  The 2000 race resulted in a recount in several Florida counties.

Electoral college opponents received more ammunition in 2016 when Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump but still lost.

Since then, the movement to get rid of the electoral college has gained momentum. But also the resistance to change it.

Some historians say it is rooted in racism

Alexander Keyssar, Professor of History at Harvard Kennedy School and author of “Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?” says that the leaders of the southern white supremacists challenged the idea of ​​a national referendum from the last decades of the 19th century until the 1960s.

“Both during and after slavery, well into the 20th century, the states of the South stood firmly against accepting a national referendum,” he said. “The south was of course the bulwark of the opposition in the time of slavery, because slave states received additional votes thanks to the three-fifths clause.

“The southern white people have gained additional influence over the electoral college, and if they had switched to a national referendum they would have lost that influence,” said Keyssar.

A group of workers on the steps of the Florida Club in St. Augustine, Florida, mid-19th century.  Slave populations were previously used to determine representation of states in Congress, even though few slaves had voting rights.
The three-fifths compromise was an agreement between the northern and southern states and basically said that only three-fifths, or 60% of the slave population would be counted to determine representation in the House of Representatives – and voters on the electoral college.

In this way, the southern states used slave populations to increase their political influence without having to recognize slaves as equals with whites. Most of the slaves also had no voting rights.

“The electoral college brought the same compromise of three-fifths into the presidential election, giving the southern states political power from the start that was disproportionate to their white populations,” said Keyssar.

Even now, some southern states believe that abolishing the electoral college would diminish their influence and undermine white power, Keyssar said.

“The presence of racism and white supremacy in the south is helping to prevent the country from passing a national referendum instead of the electoral college,” he said.

Not everyone supports getting rid of it

America’s electoral system has long confused the world. But some experts have defended it, saying the process gives less populated states a voice.

“The electoral college is a very carefully designed structure that the constitution’s drafters put in place to balance the competing interests of large and small states,” wrote Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal counsel for the Heritage Foundation and former commissioner of the FEC.

“It prevents candidates from winning an election by focusing only on high-population urban centers (the big cities) and ignoring smaller states and the more rural areas of the country. … The college forces candidates to support a larger one Seeking the cross – part of the American electorate – to win a series of regional elections. “

While critics of the system have argued that Hillary Clinton wrongly lost the election, Spakovsky says her case is a perfect example of why the electoral college works better than the majority vote.

Florida A&M students protest discrepancies in the results of the 2000 presidential election.

“Framer’s fears of ‘majority tyranny’ remain very current to this day. Their significance can be seen in the fact that despite their national Hillary Clinton support, they won only about one-sixth of counties nationwide, mostly urban ones Areas on both coasts, “he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also questioned the idea of ​​a national referendum.
Some electoral college defenders have used racist undertones. Just last year, former Maine Governor Paul LePage said that abolishing the current system would marginalize whites.

“What would actually happen if they did what they say they will do, the whites have nothing to say,” LePage said in a radio interview. “It will only be the minorities who would vote. It would be California, Texas, Florida. In all the small states like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana and Rhode Island, you will never see a presidential candidate again.”

“You will never see anyone come into our state on the national stage,” he added. “We’re going to be forgotten people. It’s a crazy, crazy process.”

Reform or abolition would be difficult

The electoral college has changed several times, each time through constitutional amendments. The 12th amendment, passed in time for the 1804 election, allowed voters to cast two votes – one for the president and one for the vice-president. With the 20th amendment, the process was limited in time. The 23rd amendment gave voters the District of Columbia.

In a 2018 poll, 65% of Americans supported the election of the president by popular vote, compared to 32% who preferred the electoral college.

However, removing the electoral college would be difficult for several reasons.

A joint congressional session meets to count the votes of the electoral college for the 2008 presidential election in the House Chamber of the US Capitol on January 8, 2009.

It takes years to amend the Constitution and requires a large majority in Congress or state legislatures. Smaller states that benefit from the electoral college would have to give up some of this power.

Politics has also played a role in conservation. Many Republicans believe that electoral college is more beneficial to their party.

“They think it is to their advantage to keep the electoral college. And since you need the two-thirds in Congress to change the constitution, it is difficult to do that when one party is against it,” Keyssar said. The current electoral system also divides power between the federal government and states, making it complex to reform part of it, he added.

Good or bad, American voters may not be leaving the electoral college anytime soon.

CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf contributed to this report


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