“I am convinced… that the black vote is going to be not only a
bigger vote than ever before, it is the swing vote.” Rev. Jesse
Jackson, Sr., speaking on CNN
Rev. Jackson is right about the raw numbers of African Americans who
are expected to go to the polls on November 2. However, most of the
national Black voting population will “swing” neither their home states
nor the presidential election. Fifty-five percent of the Black population
resides in the South, and every four years their votes are drowned
in a sea of Republican red. For presidential election purposes, except
the besieged Black citizens of Florida, the southern African American
franchise is negated by the Electoral College – a true 21st century
vestige of slavery.
The whites of the Old Confederacy – once Democrats, then rebels against
the Union, then Democrats again, and now mostly Republicans – practice
racial bloc voting to keep Black minorities – ranging from 16 percent
(Arkansas) to 36 percent (Mississippi) – in political check within
state boundaries. But it is the Electoral College that chains Black
southern voters to their white political antagonists, in effect forcing
Blacks to add the weight of their franchise to that of the Republican
Party’s racist base, every four years.
We vote against their candidate – they walk away with the southern
half of Black America’s electoral votes.
No Americans are more adversely affected than Blacks by the profoundly
undemocratic workings of the Electoral College, the rich white man’s
arrangement hatched in the backrooms of the 1787 Constitutional Convention,
in Philadelphia. The same Convention enshrined slavery as untouchable
by the new national government for 20 years, and designated slaves
as three-fifths men for the purposes of awarding representation in
Congress. Slave masters were made more powerful than other white men
by exercising the franchise that was denied the slave.
Although the conventional wisdom is that the Electoral College was
devised solely to protect smaller states, the scheme was at least as
advantageous to the southern slave-holding aristocracy, who sought
to narrow the franchise in their own states as much as possible, while
also limiting the federal government’s power to tamper with their “peculiar
institution.” The slave states amassed blocs of electors all out of
proportion to the actual voting public, a bloated electoral tyranny
that lasted – except for a brief intermission during Reconstruction – until
passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
From the beginning, the Electoral College was a “State’s Rights” issue
in the now-familiar, racist sense of the term. Yale Law School professor And
in election 2000, it again ended up working against women, blacks,
and the poor, who voted overwhelmingly for Gore.” The Electoral College’s “roots
aren't as principled as we think,'' Prof. Amar told the San Jose
Mercury News, October
electoral college was designed to and did in fact advantage Southern
white male propertied slaveholders in the antebellum era.
The Colorado model
The most recent challenge to Electoral College bondage comes from
the Republican-leaning state of Colorado, in the form of Amendment
36, a November 2 ballot initiative. Although the Electoral College
can only be abolished by the constitutional amendment process, requiring
the assent of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-quarters
of state legislatures, the states may allocate their electoral votes
any way they choose. Coloradans led by former Howard Dean campaign
manager Rick Ridder want to split the state’s
nine electoral votes proportionally – meaning five to four in a close
race such as is expected this year. Amendment 36 would take effect
immediately upon passage, and could possibly tip the balance of the
election. Had Amendment 36 been in force in 2000, Al Gore would have
hit the magic number 270 with three of Colorado’s proportionally
awarded electoral votes – and without Florida.
If Amendment 36 passes – and clears court hurdles – Colorado
would become the first state to award electors in a truly proportional
manner. States get one electoral vote for each Senator and congressperson.
Nebraska and Maine, the only current defectors from the “winner take
all” system, award the statewide presidential winner two votes, and
candidates win one elector for each congressional district carried.
The formula hasn’t made a bit of difference in these two rather racially
homogenous states – in Maine’s case, very homogenous – because
the winning presidential candidate has also carried each congressional
district. The states’ electoral votes have never been split.
However, the Colorado model would work a sea change
in the South, where the Electoral College is not merely a quaint “antique,” as
the Los Angeles Times editorialized on October 24, but a blood-soaked
tool of racial oppression that renders Black voters less than 50 percent
citizens in presidential elections.
We need to part the “red” sea, and free the Black
South from the white-folks-take-all electoral grip.
The Black presidential impact
calculates that, in a proportional system that
awards electors based on rounded votes (as in the Colorado initiative)
African Americans in 11 southern states would account for 30 electors,
19 percent of the total.
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view of table
Under the current winner-take-all system, only the
Black voters of the “battleground” state of Florida have a chance to
influence the presidential election – and everyone knows it. Despite
continuing gains in local and state contests, Black southern impotence
in the presidential race has vast ramifications. It is as if the national
Black population were sliced in half every four years, the southern
portion gang-pressed into empowering the White Man’s Party.
Proportional electors would bring the Black South
to full stature. The region’s 30 Black-weighted electoral votes would
represent more than the currently hotly contested states of Arizona
(10), Colorado (9), Nevada (5) and New Mexico (5), combined. Black
Georgia alone would account for as many electoral votes as New Hampshire
(4), also considered a prize in these final days of the campaign.
Dr. David Bositis, of Washington’s Joint Center for Political and
Economic Studies (JCPES), agrees that proportional electors in the
South “would substantially increase the influence of the Black vote.
There are several southern states where there is heavily racially polarized
voting and the white population dominates the elections, no matter
how strongly Blacks turn out.” The white vote sometimes “breaks 80-20
Republican,” he said.
This is not just about winning national elections. Under the current
system, southern white Republicans are rewarded for delivering the
whole Electoral College pie, while African Americans scramble to figure
out how they can impress upon the national Democratic apparatus that
state party organizations would cease to exist were it
not for Black voters. Instead, power in state parties devolves to white
Democrats, who imprint the organizations with corporate Democratic
Leadership Council ideology. The DLC rules because it can deliver corporate
cash, while Black southern Democrats cannot deliver electoral votes.
Conventional wisdom wrong
The JCPES’s Dr. Bositis believes proportional allocation of electors “is
not going to happen” because “institutional forces are too strong.” We
are not so pessimistic. The conventional wisdom is that smaller states
will fight tooth and nail to keep the system as it is. But Maine (4
electors) and Nebraska (5) are on the small side, and they broke with
winner-take-all, albeit with a formula that Dr. Bositis says, correctly, “would
probably be worse than the current system” if applied in the South.
The brazen gerrymandering of Texas is proof enough that the
Maine-Nebraska rules – awarding electors based on presidential candidates’ victories
in congressional districts – will not serve African Americans well.
Black congresspersons represent 17 southern districts, subject to the
redistricting machinations of state legislatures. This does not adequately
represent the Black presence in the South.
The Colorado formula is the most democratic – and worth fighting for
in state legislatures. (Only a few states allow such changes by referendum.)
Strong majorities of Americans – in big states and small ones – favor
abolishing the Electoral College altogether. Colorado’s Amendment
36 is the closest thing to it, without going through a (very long and
grueling) U.S. Constitutional amendment process. A legislative remedy
along those lines would have mass appeal.
North and South, the winner-take-all electoral system is the most
glaring impediment to Black collective political expression – a prerequisite
to self-determination. Half of our votes will not be counted
in the Electoral College, next week. We must create a system in which
we can bear witness to the fruits of our numbers, and give credit to
ourselves, so that we may truly feel the power – and exercise