“A Living Symbol of America’s Original Sin”

Apparently the editorial board of the New York Times has opposed the electoral college for over 80 years. Yesterday, on the day Trump was elected with 2.8 million votes less than his opponent, they wrote a compelling argument for getting rid of it.

Yes, Mr. Trump won under the rules, but the rules should change so that a presidential election reflects the will of Americans and promotes a more participatory democracy.

The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.

Today the college, which allocates electors based on each state’s representation in Congress, tips the scales in favor of smaller states; a Wyoming resident’s vote counts 3.6 times as much as a Californian’s. And because almost all states use a winner-take-all system, the election ends up being fought in just a dozen or so “battleground” states, leaving tens of millions of Americans on the sidelines.

The United States has since gotten rid of slavery and the Constitutional provision that counted black people as 3/5 of a person. Over the last two centuries, we’ve made additional progress towards democracy by amending the Constitution to give the voting franchise to women and all citizens of this country as well as allowing the people in states to directly elect members to the Senate. In doing so, we recognized that when the founders said that “all men are created equal,” their vision of who was included in that “all” was too narrow.

And yet the remaining effect of that narrow vision lives on with the survival of the electoral college, as we’ve just witnessed in this last presidential election. Often when America’s “original sin” of slavery is discussed, we hear from white people that it is time to let the past go and move on. Getting rid of the role of the electoral college would be one more way to enable that to happen. As the NYT editorial board points out, there is a way to do that.

There is an elegant solution: The Constitution establishes the existence of electors, but leaves it up to states to tell them how to vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia, representing 165 electoral votes, have already passed legislation to have their electors vote for the winner of the national popular vote. The agreement, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on. This would ensure that the national popular-vote winner would become president.

As they say, 11 states and the District of Columbia have already signed on. You can find out where your state stands here.

Perhaps it is finally time to end this living symbol of America’s original sin.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.