The role of the electoral college in the election of Donald Trump has come under a lot of scrutiny and debate over the past few days. Killary won the popular vote by about 1/2 million or so more votes than the orange-tanned Nazi. But Trump was ahead in the electoral college, and so won the election. Many Americans now are discussing abolishing the electoral college as an anti-democratic institution.
They’re right. It is anti-democratic. It was meant to be from the very beginning. In this piece from Outdate Democracy, the American constitutional lawyer, Paul Finkelman, explains how the electoral college was deliberately invented by James Madison, in order to preserve the power of the slave states. The Founding Fathers discussed various methods by which the present could be elected, including restricting his election to the governors. This was rejected. Madison believed that the ‘fittest thing’ would be for American citizens to elect their president. But there was a problem, in that if this was based only on the numbers of White people, who were the only people who could vote, the south would be at a serious disadvantage. 30%-50% of the population of these states were slaves. The result was that these states had a smaller voting population than the north. As a result, the electoral college was devised, by which a slave was considered only 3/5 of a human being. This nevertheless gave these states the necessary numbers in their populations, to be able to send their own candidates to the White House. Finkelman shows that if the situation had not been invented, then possibly four of the first five presidents wouldn’t have been elected. He concludes that the electoral college is the last relic of slavery, and one that is now unnecessary, as all the residents in a state now have the right to vote.
It’s an interesting perspective on what is, to us Brits, a bizarre and very convoluted aspect of the system of American democracy. And I’ve no doubt it’s true. Along with footage of Dr Finkelman speaking, there’s also pictures of Blacks working in the fields, and on the auction block from the 19th century, and adverts for slaves, which make it very clear what a degrading and inhuman system the electoral college was intended to preserve.