Two Distortions

My beloved United States of America is severely compromised by two institutions that undermine democracy: the electoral college and the specification that each state, no matter its size, will have two senators. Both are required by the Constitution, and both would require a constitutional amendment to change.

The United States Electoral College was established by the 1789 U.S. Constitution as part of the process for the indirect election of the President and Vice-President of the United States. It was inserted by the framers of the Constitution as a last-minute deal, a gift to southern states trying to protect slaveholders’ power and leverage the “three-fifths compromise.” That was an agreement that three-fifths of the slave population in the southern states, none of whom were allowed to vote, would be counted for determining direct taxation and representation in the House of Representatives. Without the compromise, southern states would be consistently outvoted by the far more populous northern states. Hence the racist underpinnings of the electoral college.

The electoral college has been criticized since its establishment, and more than a century of attempts to replace it with a more democratic national popular vote have been thwarted by southern and Republican politicians looking to diminish the voting power of non-whites.

In 1823, Thomas Jefferson described the electoral college as “the most dangerous blot on our Constitution.” In the 1960s, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee called it “a loaded pistol pointed at our system of government,” whose “continued existence is a game of Russian roulette.” New York Representative Emanuel Celler once called it “barbarous, unsporting, dangerous, and downright uncivilized.” In 2012, Donald Trump tweeted that the institution is “a disaster for a democracy.” Despite more than 700 legislative efforts to amend or abolish it, the Electoral College remains.

More next time.

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