Dismantling Systemic Racism in our Electoral System
In 2020, more Americans voted for Democrats. In 2018, more Americans voted for Democrats. In 2016, more Americans voted for Democrats. Why haven’t we been able to govern?
As poll workers tabulate the final ballots in the 2020 election, it is clear that Joe Biden will pass the 270 Electoral votes needed to win the election while receiving between 4 and 6% more votes than his opponent. Joe Biden is set to have received the greatest turnout in over a century with the second widest popular vote margin since 1996. In any other “democratic” nation, we wouldn’t have waited several days to slice and dice the trends in Macomb County, Michigan or Maricopa County, Arizona. It would have been apparent by 10 PM on Tuesday that Joe Biden had decisively won the election. Instead, we rely on the Electoral College, a relic of the 18th century. Not only is the Electoral College undemocratic in nature, twice in the past twenty years subverting the will of the American people, it is historically and presently racist.
The Electoral College was added to the Constitution by James Madison to protect Southern slave-owners from Northern states with more educated, landowning, white men that could theoretically elect a president that would favor abolition. When the Constitution was drafted, Black people were considered ⅗ of human beings with respect to the Electoral College, the Census, and congressional representation. After the Civil War, we abolished slavery (mostly), but we kept the Electoral College, an institution built to preserve it. Fast forward to the 2000 presidential election: Al Gore receives more votes than his opponent George Bush including 90% of the Black vote, however Bush receives more Electoral votes and is elected president. In 2016, Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than her opponent and 91% of the Black vote, yet her opponent received more Electoral votes and became president. Black voters aren’t overwhelmingly voting for Democrats because Democrats are perfect on issues affecting them. They’re voting for them because the Republican Party’s central brand is white identity politics and anti-Black policies and governance.
When Republicans came to power in 2016, their agenda was overtly and aggressively anti-Black. They repealed civil rights rules, erected barriers to voting, extended the racial wealth gap through a tax cut for the rich and big corporations, deregulated the fossil fuel industry and the big banks to let polluters and financial predators run amok, tried to take away health insurance from 22 million Americans and protections for preexisting conditions, presided over grotesque violations of human rights in immigrant detention centers, restricted access to reproductive services, virtually ended investigations into racism in policing and in our schools, and zeroed out our intake of refugees. Every aspect of this agenda caused harm to the majority of Americans but all of them disproportionately hurt Black Americans. Black voters deserve to have a government that will recognize their votes and will pursue an agenda that not only avoids actively harming them but actually moves to undo historic injustices and inequalities.
Dismantling systemic racism requires us to dismantle the electoral system that preserves it, and that starts with abolishing the Electoral College and letting the people decide through popular vote who their leaders will be.
Beyond the presidency, the policies that govern us are determined by the Congress. While in many countries, lawmaking is performed in a singular, unicameral body, the United States has a bicameral system with a House and a Senate. The House, in theory, is the representative body with each member representing 747,000 constituents; the Senate gives each state two representatives with small, nearly all-white states like Wyoming receiving 70 times greater representation than diverse, populous California. With the addition of the Senate, Constitutional authors designed a system to protect states with institutionalized slavery with smaller voting populations in the legislative process in the same way the Electoral College protected slave states in the electoral process. The Senate was created to preserve the racial caste system, and it continues to do so to this day. In this election, more Americans voted for Democrats, but — pending the Georgia runoffs — the Republicans will control the Senate and hold a veto power over our agenda.
We cannot hope to build an equitable future if Black voters voices are squandered. The question is are we willing to move beyond undemocratic, racist structures like the Senate and the Electoral College and try to become a democracy or will we preserve the status quo for fear of change.