The Electoral College is a Dangerous Relic That Threatens the Future of Our Democracy

This 18th-century artifact provided constitutional protections for slaveholders and allowed for the corruption of our electoral system. It’s time to abolish it.

Joel Bleifuss

Protestors at the Washington Monument the day after the 2017 Inauguration of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote. Bill Clark/Getty Images

If Democ­rats don’t stop him, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is set to install Amy Coney Bar­rett on the Supreme Court. Trump has nom­i­nat­ed (and the GOP Sen­ate has con­firmed) 220 Repub­li­cans to the fed­er­al judi­cia­ry since 2016. Coney Bar­rett would make it 221. These judges will inter­pret the law to ben­e­fit the cor­po­rate cap­i­tal­ists who bankroll the GOP. It’s a sure bet that for decades to come these jus­tices will sup­port their par­ty and do lit­tle to pre­vent red states from con­tin­u­ing the Jim Crow lega­cy of dis­en­fran­chis­ing Black and Brown voters.

Where does the blame lie for this corruption of our electoral system? A constitutional protection for slaveholders: the Electoral College.

Take the fed­er­al judiciary’s sup­port of racist Repub­li­cans in Flori­da. Flori­da — where Blacks com­prise 47% of peo­ple in prison but only 17% of the state pop­u­la­tion — had been one of four remain­ing states where felons are banned for life from vot­ing. That changed in 2018 when 65% of vot­ers in Flori­da passed an amend­ment to the state con­sti­tu­tion that restored bal­lot access to peo­ple with pri­or felony con­vic­tions except those con­vict­ed of mur­der and sex­u­al offens­es. In response, the GOP leg­is­la­tors passed a law in June 2019 that requires peo­ple who served time to pay any remain­ing court fees before vot­ing. This white suprema­cist res­ur­rec­tion of the poll tax was endorsed on Sep­tem­ber 11 by six judges on the 10-mem­ber U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, five of whom were appoint­ed by Trump. At the Supreme Court, the GOP major­i­ty declined to take up the case — the fourth time this year it refused to address vot­er sup­pres­sion.

Where does the blame lie for this cor­rup­tion of our elec­toral sys­tem? A con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­tec­tion for slave­hold­ers: the Elec­toral Col­lege. This 18th-cen­tu­ry legal arti­fact has, in the 21st cen­tu­ry, allowed two pres­i­dents who lost the pop­u­lar vote — George W. Bush and Trump — to appoint a Supreme Court major­i­ty doing its best to per­vert Amer­i­can democracy.

No won­der Trump wants to ele­vate the Con­sti­tu­tion as a sacred” text. Where would he be with­out it and the Elec­toral Col­lege? Jail? To that end, on Sep­tem­ber 17, Trump announced the cre­ation — via exec­u­tive order — of the 1776 Com­mis­sion,” a fed­er­al body whose job it is to cel­e­brate the Con­sti­tu­tion as the ful­fill­ment of a thou­sand years of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion.” Indeed. We must defend our con­sti­tu­tion­al right to vote — guar­an­teed by the 15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th and 26th Amend­ments — from the likes of Trump. The pro­gres­sive agen­da, there­fore, must include con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments or workarounds that pro­tect democracy.

Abol­ish­ing the Elec­toral Col­lege should be first on the list. Fif­teen states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. have now passed the Nation­al Pop­u­lar Vote bill, which requires the Elec­toral Col­lege del­e­gates from those states to vote for the can­di­date who wins the nation­al pop­u­lar vote. Of the 270 Elec­toral Col­lege votes that are need­ed to elect the pres­i­dent, those 15 states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. have 196. If the nine addi­tion­al states that have been close to pass­ing the bill were to do so, their 88 addi­tion­al Elec­toral Col­lege del­e­gates would bring the total to 284 — enough to ensure the win­ner of the pop­u­lar vote becomes pres­i­dent. Presto! No more George W. Bush­es and Don­ald Trumps.

With their Wicked Witch” dead, the Right is jubi­lant, con­fi­dent it has a decades-long lock on the Supreme Court.

So where is that sil­ver lin­ing? It has to be faith in we the peo­ple.” Or, at least, Amer­i­can youth — a gen­er­a­tion that can’t afford to wait decades for Supreme Court jus­tices to die off. Mil­len­ni­als and Gen­er­a­tion Z are lead­ing the fights for racial jus­tice, eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty and a liv­able Earth. It’s their future on the line. Let’s take our lead from them and make history.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH