Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Small: the Electoral College matters to minorities

The Electoral College matters to minorities
By Jonathan Small

Rather than have a nationwide popular vote, the United States chooses its president through the Electoral College with the outcome tied to multiple state-level elections. This system ensures voters in smaller states like Oklahoma are still prized by presidential candidates. But it has also ensured minority groups of all types can wield greater influence even as consensus-building is incentivized.

The Electoral College’s benefit has accrued not only to those interested in specific issues—such as pro-life voters or environmentalists—but to racial minorities as well.

Consider this. In the last presidential election, roughly 130 million people voted. Roughly 35 million votes were cast by racial minorities. If we eliminated the Electoral College and chose the president based solely on popular vote, the president could be selected solely by white people.

But in the state elections that ultimately choose the president through the Electoral College, black voters represent a key share of the voting population and have greater sway.

If you doubt minority voters matter, consider how much time the recent Republican National Convention devoted to minority speakers and appeals to minority communities—even though Republicans have not historically drawn a large share of the minority vote. In the Electoral College system those voters are still prized by both parties.

That’s why in 1979, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., then president of the Black Leadership Forum, testified before the Senate to voice “the strongest opposition to the proposal to abolish the Electoral College,” warning the “precious, thou limited, political influence of black Americans would be curtailed under direct elections.”

He noted a segregationist “George Wallace-type campaign would flourish without the restraining influence of the winner-take-all Electoral College system.”

When John F. Kennedy defended the Electoral College in 1956, he noted one proponent of eliminating the Electoral College expressly said that change would make unnecessary political recognition of the “Negro, Jewish and organized labor vote in New York City.”

With the Electoral College, an explicitly racist candidacy has little chance of success. In 1979, Jordan noted nearly 52 percent of all black voters lived in nine states, and no president had been elected without winning at least five of those states. Many prior presidential candidates who had carried those states did so by narrow margins, which meant black voters could have proven decisive.

The Electoral College is the reason candidates from both major parties still work to appeal to the broadest possible audience today.

These and other important issues are discussed in “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story,” a documentary the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs helped fund. I encourage Oklahomans to watch it.

Throughout history, majorities have used government power to disadvantage minorities. That’s something our founding fathers understood, and the Electoral College was one tool they used to prevent such abuses. The need for that safeguard still exists today.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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