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

Don't miss the special, extra-length issue of In These Times devoted entirely to the subject of socialism in America today. This special issue is available now. Order your copy today for just $5.00, shipping included.

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.

For a limited time:

Donate $20 or more to In These Times and we'll send you a copy of Let This Radicalize You.

In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?

We've partnered with the publisher, Haymarket Books, and 100% of your donation will go towards supporting In These Times.

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.

Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.