"Black Vote Smothered by Electoral College"

"Black Vote Smothered by Electoral College"


"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 for 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

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 Akhil
Reed Amar and University of California colleague Vikram David Amar argue
that "the electoral college was designed to and did in fact advantage
Southern white male propertied slaveholders in the antebellum era. 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
October 24.

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
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

BC 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.

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 it.