Shut the Door on Trump by Ending the Electoral CollegeRoundup
tags: Electoral College, Donald Trump
Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
America's electoral college, an institution rooted in racial slavery, must be abolished.
Despite the electoral college's central role in the symbolic progress of President Barack Obama's two terms in office and Senator Kamala Harris' election as the first female (and Black/South Asian) vice president in American history, this institution remains a largely anti-democratic tool.
Nowhere is this more evident than in President Donald Trump's desperate efforts, aided and abetted by scores of Republican lawmakers, to overturn his overwhelming loss in the popular vote by nullifying votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia, many of which were cast by Black Americans. These staggering actions speak to the dangers of presidential elections conducted in a system of indirect democracy.
Race has been and is still at the heart of the history of the electoral college and battles over transforming it. The Constitution's three-fifths clause proved to be the constitutional sweetener facilitating ratification of a document that southern slaveholding colonies were initially skeptical of. Counting enslaved Blacks as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of computing the population to determine the makeup of the House of Representatives gave slaveholding states disproportionate political power.
Counting enslaved Blacks, who primarily resided in the South, gave this slaveholding region more political power over the electoral college than its actual proportion of free citizens would otherwise have had. It's a devil's bargain the nation has wrestled with -- and one that Black people have cruelly suffered from -- ever since.
Rooted in White Southerners' fears that they would be politically dominated by Northern interests after the Civil War, the electoral college's anti-democratic nature continued, as Black people were denied citizenship and voting rights through ritualized racial terror, intimidation and unconstitutionally racist policies that nonetheless allowed the south to win the political peace after defeat on the battleground.