Here are some facts: Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election by 2.8 million votes (or 2.1 percent of the electorate). Yesterday, the Electoral College agreed to make Donald Trump president of the United States. When he’s is sworn into office in January, two of the last three men to occupy the West Wing and control the largest military and nuclear arsenal on earth will have lost the popular vote. Hashtag democracy, am I right?
Many activists and academics hoped individual members of the Electoral College would intervene and uphold the popular vote this year. It would have been an unprecedented move, but this was an unprecedented election and Donald Trump (and his administration) will be the greatest threat to ever set up camp in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, the pleas of the desperate, patriotic electorate proved no match for the sycophantic party loyalists who make up the 538 state electors. Ironically, the only electors who broke party ranks were Democrats: three electors from Washington State voted for Republican Colin Powell and one voted for Native American tribal leader Faith Spotted Eagle. The two Texas electors who didn’t cast votes for Trump stayed true to their party, casting one vote each for Ron Paul and John Kasich. And the Hawaiian elector who didn’t vote for Clinton stayed in-party as well, casting a vote for Bernie Sanders.
For all the hand-wringing the mainstream media has done this year about How We Got Here, the answer is actually pretty simple: racism and misogyny. The Electoral College really exists because when the Founding Fathers were sorting this whole thing out, slave-owning states wanted as much political capital as non-slave owning states, something that was hard to come by when a large portion of a state’s population was made up of people who couldn’t vote because they were considered property. Yale poli-sci professor Akhil Reed Amar laid it bare in his interview with Vox days after this year’s election:
In a direct election system, the South would have lost every time … but an Electoral College allows states to count slaves, albeit at a discount (the three-fifths clause), and that’s what gave the South the inside track in presidential elections. And thus it’s no surprise that eight of the first nine presidential races were won by a Virginian. (Virginia was the most populous state at the time, and had a massive slave population that boosted its electoral vote count.)
This pro-slavery compromise was not clear to everyone when the Constitution was adopted, but it was clearly evident to everyone when the Electoral College was amended after the Jefferson-Adams contest of 1796 and 1800. These elections were decided, in large part, by the extra electoral votes created by slavery. Without the 13 extra electoral votes created by Southern slavery, John Adams would’ve won even in 1800, and every federalist knows that after the election. And yet when the Constitution is amended, the slavery bias is preserved.
And, of course, the slavery bias is still preserved. The Republican party in North Carolina suppressed the black community’s ability to vote with “an almost surgical precision,” according to a the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in July. A federal court ruled Wisconsin’s voter ID laws, which disproportionately disenfranchise people of color and caused more than 300,000 voters to be turned away from the polls on election day, unconstitutional (but permitted the laws to persist through the election). According to Daniel Nichanian of the University of Chicago, “voter turnout in Wisconsin was at its lowest levels in 20 years and decreased 13 percent in Milwaukee, where 70 percent of the state’s African-American population lives.” In Florida, an estimated one in four black voters (1.5 million people, total) weren’t able to cast their ballot this year because of a criminal conviction law that was — surprise! — “designed in the years after the Civil War in a deliberate attempt to dilute the voting power of freed slaves.”
When the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to remove the section of the Voting Rights Act that required historically oppressive states to receive federal permission before changing voting laws, Chief Justice Roberts said it was because “the country has changed.” He was wrong.
Despite Alexander Hamilton’s poetic waxing about the last gap saving grace of the Electoral College, it’s a system — like so many U.S. institutions — that was set up to reward racism. Donald Trump won the Electoral College through state-sanctioned voter suppression of people of color in swing states, interference by a hostile foreign power in our democratic process, and meddling by a “non-partisan” organization of the federal government. And of the seven electors who didn’t adhere to their state’s pledged vote, a grand total of zero voted for popular vote winner Hillary Clinton.
228 years after the Constitution of the United States was ratified this country has never been less of a democracy.