de Vos: This college flunks
The Friday Report
How odd it is to believe in “one man – one vote” for every single elected official except the most important one, our very own president. More than two million Americans voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump but that didn’t matter. For the fifth time in history, the will of the people has been denied. More than eleven percent of our presidents have been losers, our second choice. It turns out the popular vote means absolutely nothing when it comes to our top official. How did that come to happen in a democracy?
Our nation’s founders were determined to create a unique form of government but they struggled mightily with what it should look like. Some wanted monarchs, others wanted parliaments, but whatever form it took, most all agreed that every man should be equal and represented by a vote that counted as much as the next man’s.
Well, every man except slaves, of course. And therein lay the problem that got tortuously solved by the Electoral College. The problem was that the North had the population but the South had tremendous wealth and clout that had been accumulated on the backs of slaves.
James Madison, our fourth president from 1809 to 1817, was instrumental in the creation of the paperwork that would document the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Earlier, in 1787, as a delegate and leader at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Madison was faced with a difficult choice. He wanted to preserve the union but, as a slaveholder in Virginia, he sided with the South who threatened to leave the union if all the political power rested in the northern states. Here’s where “one man, one vote” went by the wayside.
If power was to be portioned by population, the South was at a disadvantage because, of course, slaves couldn’t vote. Therefore, said the North, they shouldn’t count towards the South’s representation. The South rebutted that if slaves couldn’t be counted, then the power to pick the nation’s leader rested unfairly in the North, leaving the South no choice but to break from the convention and form their own national union of southern states.
It was at this point that the Electoral College was cobbled together in a negotiation known as the Three-Fifths Compromise. Electoral votes for president, were to be allocated according to each state’s population. To satisfy the South, for the purpose of picking a president, each slave would be counted as 60% of a white person.
The Electoral College would be formed out of the political and party leaders from the state, with each state receiving a number of electoral votes based upon population. Electors are only loosely bound to casting their votes according to the popular vote in their district. In many instances, they can vote their conscience and, though they seldom do, vote against the majority of popular ballots cast.
That the Electoral College was formed to protect slavery is a much-ignored aspect of the presidential election process. Today we get mumbled explanations about how the Founding Fathers did not trust the judgement of the common man, wanting only the best (white) minds to pick our leaders.
The term “Electoral College” appears nowhere in the Constitution. It’s disturbing to realize that your vote doesn’t count, but it’s more unsettling to think that it does not count because of a systemic racism that still persists today.
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