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News > World

How U.S. Electoral College System Is Based on Slavocracy

  • Florida too continued to witness protests on the fourth day as protesters refused to back down, carrying placards reading 'Down with White Supremacy' and 'Deport Trump'

    Florida too continued to witness protests on the fourth day as protesters refused to back down, carrying placards reading 'Down with White Supremacy' and 'Deport Trump' | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 November 2017

Five Democrats and two Republicans were declared as “faithless electors” where Trump received 304 electoral votes while Clinton won 227.

As surreal as it may sound, but it was a year ago that Donald Trump won the U.S. elections. The U.S. president has since been unleashing havoc through his cataclysmic policies, spewing lies and propagating white supremacist ideology, tearing apart and dividing the North American country even further.

A Review of Trump's Record in Office

Several polls have shown Trump's incompetence and his growing unpopularity. An August national poll by Quinnipiac University, 62 percent believe that Trump's efforts are deepening the race schism, further dividing the country.

Just before Trump's one year in office anniversary, a  recent poll by the Washington Post-ABC News showed the U.S. president hitting an all-time low approval rating of 37 percent. 

Not so surprisingly, his approval rating was a little over twice as high, at 46 percent with the White voters compared to minority voters,  which was 20 percent. 

"The scope of Trump’s commitment to whiteness is matched only by the depth of popular disbelief in the power of whiteness. We are now being told that support for Trump’s “Muslim ban,” his scapegoating of immigrants,"  Ta Nehisi Coates, wrote in his October Atlantic piece, "The First White President." 

Despite Hillary succeeding by a narrow margin in the popular vote, Trump was declared the 45th president of the United States. According to Pew Research Center (PRC), a U.S-based think tank, Hillary Clinton received 59.6m votes, compared to Trump’s 59.4m. 

Trump's win, a major disappointment for many, was secured through a large number of Electoral College votes, 304 of the 538 electoral votes, to be exact, per PRC. 

"Deep into his first year as president, Donald Trump’s less than stellar approval ratings has lowered expectations about how history will judge him," Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told the CNN.  

What is an Electoral College? 

First set up in the 1787 Philadelphia convention as part of the 12th Constitution, The Electoral college which is embedded in the U.S. Constitution, is not a place, but a system that the "founding fathers" set up as a compromise between the top candidates chosen by the popular vote, eligible U.S. citizens and electors that were chosen by state legislators up until 1830.  

"The system seems to be unique in the United States—applying only to the presidential election—and unique to the United States.  I know of no western or industrialized democracy that uses such a system," Paul Finkelman, visiting law professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, wrote in an essay titled, 'The Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College." 

The system has a total of 538 electors. And a majority of 270 electoral votes are required to elect a President.  

The system embedded in the constitution is designed in a way that if need be can bypass the popular vote. Since its establishment, the electoral college has bypassed the popular vote presidential candidate thrice, twice in the last 16 years. 

The Office of the Federal Register, OFR, a wing of the National Archives, acts as an intermediary between the governors and the secretary of states. OFR coordinates and executes the functions of the Electoral college on behalf of the U.S. citizens, the States and the Congress. 

Per the 23rd amendment in 1961, the District of Colombia, D.C., that originally didn't have a state status, was assigned to have a minimum of three electors, minimum number set for the least populous state, as opposed to the number of electors assigned in other states which depends on the number of the representatives and senators the state has. 

However, out of the 51 U.S. states, 9 states didn't ratify the 23rd amendment ratification. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia declined. 

The Electors' vote in each state is either bound by the state law or pledge to the political parties.  

The electors who are elected by the political parties follow state legislature laws, however, these members cannot be holding U.S. office or be members of Congress. And those who pledge and then defect are known as "faithless electors" and the states have the power to punish them.  Those bound by state law need to go with the popular vote winning candidate in their state. 

Five Democrats and two Republicans were declared as “faithless electors” where Trump received 304 electoral votes while Clinton won 227, according to PRC. 

California, Texas, New York and Florida are some of the states with the highest number of electors, making up well over 100 of the total 580 electors nationwide. 

One Year Since Trump's Election

Beginnings of the System Steeped in Slavery and Racism 

The Electoral College was set up by slave owners, "to appease the Slavocracy," as described by the New Yorker's writer, Hendrik Hertzberg. 

James Maddison, known as the "Father of the Constitution," was a slave owner from Virginia, who established the system which set up a mechanism to benefit who owned the most slaves at the time. 

"It’s embarrassing," Finkelman, told the PBS, "I think if most Americans knew what the origins of the Electoral College is, they would be disgusted." 

While arguing in the favor of the electoral college system, Maddison famously said, 

"There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States, and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed, on the whole, to be liable to the fewest objections."

In other words, the system was established to empower the wealthy property and slave-owning class based on "the score of Negroes" they had. 

Maddison's state, Virginia, was one of the most populous at the time with 40 percent of them were slaves. He was well aware that the population in the North would outnumber the people in the South since half a million slaves in the region weren't accounted for when it came to voting. So, the electoral college devised a plan to capitalize on slaves without actually giving them any voting rights but still use them as votes. 

"The electoral college is of course based in part on the three-fifths clause. Thus there is an immediate connection between slavery and the electoral college," Finkelman wrote, which means, the system counted each Black slave as three-fifths of a person as a vote. 

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson who owned 100 slaves used the system's three-fifths clause to beat his opponent Adams, known to be anti-slavery. 

Fast forward to this century and the 2016 elections, many critics have argued that Trump's win was largely a part of the white backlash, 

"Trump won white voters by a margin almost identical to that of Mitt Romney, who lost the popular vote to Barack Obama in 2012," Pew Research Center, U.S. based think tank stated in one of its analysis. 

"Whiteness in America is a different symbol—a badge of advantage," Ta Nehisi Coates wrote in his viral Atlantic piece, "My President Was Black" soon after Trump took office. 

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