The people of Brooklyn are calling on the Electoral College to honor, and elect, the popular winner of the presidential election.
It is held that the founders of our country created the Electoral College as a check on the popular presidential vote—on the premise, in part, that the majority of American voters would be uninformed, misinformed, or more plainly, make a bad choice. The Electoral College could, in theory, prevent a demagogue, a bigot, or a candidate dangerous to our country, and to our founding principles from becoming president.
But another reason for its continued existence, pointed out by Time Magazine, is downright troubling. Even as parties solidified platforms—and therefore it became easier for voters to be informed—the Electoral College remained in place to appease the slave-owning South: If Electoral votes were based on a state’s population, the free and voting population of the North was far greater than that of the South, and would receive far more electoral votes. The South’s population, meanwhile, was filled with slaves who did not count as citizens and who could not vote. Per Time:
“At the Philadelphia convention [in 1787], the visionary Pennsylvanian James Wilson proposed direct national election of the president. But the savvy Virginian James Madison responded that such a system would prove unacceptable to the South: “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”
Rather than dump the Electoral College, then, it was built with a compromise: Slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person, so that the South could hold its electoral weight against the North. Based on that compromise, in the 1800-01 presidential election, Southerner and slave owner Thomas Jefferson, says Time, was boosted into the presidency. His state’s 12 electoral votes, based on its slave population, was the Electoral California of today: Only 91 Electoral votes were required to win the presidency and, in total, slaves gave Southern states 18 more.
“Thomas Jefferson metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves,” writes Time. “For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.”
But today, we both have the tools to be informed voters, and, thankfully, are slave-free. The Electoral College, and the basic check against ignorance it once provided, and system of slavery it worked to uphold, are no longer relevant. It is anachronistic, atavistic, and exists due to dramatically undemocratic ideals. Something has to give. We need the direct democracy through which our other public servants, such as Governors, are elected. But meantime, while the Electoral College does still exist, we, the popular vote, need to be the check on it. Brooklyn is calling on the Electoral College, on December 19, to vote the voice of the majority of Americans, to heed our popular vote.
Spread the word. Sign a petition to help make it happen here.