The Moral Stain on the Electoral College

I wholeheartedly agree with Hendrik Hertzberg, this editorial from the Los Angeles Times in support of the National Popular Vote initiative (which neuters the utterly undemocratic Electoral College and allows for popular election of the president, and was just passed in Vermont) is excellent, and perhaps the clearest and most persuasive piece on the subject I’ve seen (and I am not always a big fan of what appears on the LA Times’ editorial page). A taste:

What both sides recognize is the effect that winner-take-all rules have on campaigns. Candidates who are far ahead or far behind in a state have no reason to waste time on them. Barack Obama, for instance, was a prohibitive favorite to win California in 2008, so he spent neither time nor money here after the primaries. Similarly, John McCain knew he would lose this state, so he concentrated his efforts elsewhere. The result was typical: a national political campaign waged in a handful of battleground states such as Ohio and Florida… .

… what should guide this debate is a recognition that our evolving electoral system has embraced increasingly democratic notions of how we pick our leaders. This bill represents the natural next step in that evolution, and would finally allow Americans to rest assured that the next president of the United States will be the candidate preferred by voters.

Hertzberg also notes, very importantly, that the reason we have such an arcane system now is not simply because the founders feared mob rule or that they considered the states to be the true sovereigns rather than the people (a claim often made by conservative Electoral College purists), but because certain states were a little skittish about granting voting rights to certain members of their communities which were considered livestock as well as a mere 60% of a person. I’ll end the euphemisms there and let Hertzberg take over:

… three-fifths of the enslaved [in Southern states] were counted in determining the size of a state’s delegation to the House of Representatives … The non-accidental result is to give slave masters a gigantic bonus, which is transferred to the Electoral College, where each state gets a number of electors equal to its Congressional representation.

The real horror of the three-fifths rule is not so much that a slave is seen as three-fifths of a man. It is that white men who enslave their fellow human beings are given extra political power by virtue of enslaving their fellow human beings, and at their expense.

With a stain like that, it only makes the already-anachronistic Electoral College seem less like a benign relic, and more like the shameful compromise of justice that it is. Would it were gone with all due speed. Make sure you’re telling lawmakers in your state that you want the NPV initiative passed. (This would certainly please my former employer.)