Our country prides itself on progress — on innovating and adapting to the future, and on throwing out that which is outdated and obsolete. We accept that some things we did were stupid, or wrong, or in some cases morally bankrupt, but we’ve always tried to move past them. And, I believe it’s time to do that again.
It’s time to do away with that most prehistoric of institutions — the Electoral College. Not because it doesn’t make sense, and not because it is dated, but because it actually has done serious damage, and continues to do serious damage, to everything the United States stands for. We have to get rid of it, and there’s no better time than now. We’ve just come out of a divisive, but decisive election — the winner won by a respectable margin both in the electoral and popular vote. That puts us in a good situation to change the way we vote — something we’ve needed to do for a long time.
From the very start, the Electoral College was designed to manipulate results, as you can find out from pretty much any high school social studies class. The Southern states who attended the Constitutional Convention were determined to protect their slave ownership at any cost, and, supposedly using the threat of secession, forced through a system that would guarantee them more of a say in a government that everybody else.
The Electoral College, giving the more populous states greater say in elections, combined with the Three-Fifths Clause, which counted slaves as part of the population, even if they couldn’t vote, gave slave states a significant and disproportionate majority. And if you think they would then use that majority to continue protecting slavery, then you would be right. If it hadn’t been for the Electoral College, slavery might have ended in America years or decades sooner.
The unfortunate results of our election system didn’t stop there. After Reconstruction, and Jim Crow laws had been implemented in the South, the region’s white leaders once again used the Electoral College to gain a disproportionate majority, since their laws had disenfranchised many African Americans’ voting rights.
Of course, eventually the Civil Rights Movement came along. But still, the Electoral College has a tragic and disgusting legacy — if we are tearing down monuments and renaming buildings that bear the names of people who fought for injustice, shouldn’t we also do away with the system that was their greatest tool and weapon? By keeping it, we are only increasing the chances that such a thing could happen again. And in some ways, it already is.
The elections of the past few decades have all had a similar formula to them. Some of this is due to the increasing polarization of political parties, of course, but it is also due to the system that parties are operating in. Lately, only about a dozen states tend to vote differently (swing states), and the rest are ones that you can generally predict correctly weeks, even months in advance.
This has a variety of negative effects. Plenty of people, myself included, are often less engaged in elections than they should be, because you know how a lot of it will turn out. Candidates focus campaigning on swing states, and tend to ignore others. In the 2020 election season, neither of the two candidates campaigned in West Virginia once, and not just because it’s small and sparsely populated, but because it reliably votes Republican.
Both candidates also ignored big states, like California and New York, that, despite being big electoral prizes, pretty much always vote Democrat. That isn’t just demoralizing to the people in these states, but it actually hurts the democratic process. The issues that matter in one state won’t always matter in another, but candidates lean hard into the ones of swing states, one reason so many of our state’s problems have gone on ignored.
If we move to a popular-vote system, we will not only be following in the footsteps of most other democracies on Earth, but we will be putting an end to a centuries-old practice of downgrading the votes of certain people. Don’t get me wrong, popular voting will be hard. But we won’t be honoring voting manipulation. We won’t be affecting campaign practices for the worse. We won’t be relying as much on state governments to control voting (something that I personally think made this year’s election much more agonizing).
In our country’s history, we have had five elections where the majority of the people did not vote for the man who won. The unfairness and senselessness of this should be especially obvious to us now, considering that two of the five elections occurred in the past 10 years. The Electoral College is antiquated, to say the least, and, in my opinion, it should be one of our first priorities of the coming decade to move away from it. Doing so will connect our country in a way that hasn’t been done in its history — maybe we’ll start thinking of ourselves as states a little less, and more as solid and coherent country. And what better time than now, with a newly and decisively elected president, and four fresh years before us?