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Go Slow But There Is A Case For Black America To End The Electoral College


While the dissatisfaction, confusion, and bitterness surrounding the election is driving many to push for the elimination of the electoral college (as much as 60% are in favor of such a move, according to some polls), Blacks would be wise to consider such a decision in terms of their own best interest and not in the interests of those who wish to elect George W. Bush or Al Gore. Deep thought and an enlightened collective interest on whether to keep or discard the Electoral College may go a long way in avoiding a mistake that will be hard to correct.

There are some good arguments for keeping or eliminating the current system by which we elect the President of the United States. And the more I consider the issue the more I begin to realize that one's opinion on whether to scrap the electoral college depends upon how one feels about Black unity and America's two-party system because under the current system or one that relied upon the popular vote; Black unity and the two-party system would be rewarded differently and would produce different political results.

Under the Electoral College system, because Blacks vote overwhelmingly in a bloc, they have forced politicians, to a degree, to treat them as 40 million people as opposed to 40 million people in 50 states. This has served Blacks well on issues like lynchings, civil rights legislation, police brutality and racial profiling that have a strong likelihood of affecting Blacks equally (as they are crimes based upon the color of a person's skin and Blacks share such skin equally).

Because Blacks have been able to speak, in effect, with one voice on such issues they have been able to distort their numerical weakness and minority status in a manner that gives the Black electorate a disproportionate amount of influence in an election. When the majority group is split along regional and state lines on a variety issues, Blacks are united and able to get the attention of a presidential candidate, or two, in several states throughout the country where heavy Black populations reside, as opposed to just one or two states.

Lani Guinier, who advocated that the majoritarian rule be disaggregated by a variety of means, dealt with this phenomenon at great length and brilliance. What Lani Guinier was afraid of was a majority of Americans - as little as 51% - solidifying their rule and repeatedly gaining the levers of power while they ignored the interests, candidates and will of the minority. She described this as one of the biggest dangers of America's majority-take-all electoral system.

Under the Electoral College, the national majority is disaggregated along state lines with each state having a say in the final determination on who will become the next president of the United States. This can and has served to break up majority rule. If there were no electoral college, the case could be made that the wishes of the numerical minority could be consistently ignored as candidates could in effect, campaign for the votes of majority group in the country and ignore the minority. It would be easier for them to do that with the elimination of the 50 separate state elections that occur on Election Day via the Electoral College system.

With candidates no longer concerned about winning the Black vote in order to carry a particularly critical state, some argue that Blacks would have less of their issues of concern addressed. On the other hand, life without an Electoral College may not be that bad and may actually reward Black unity in ways that the Electoral College stifles. Because the electoral college is biased toward the two-major parties that are institutionalized on all 50 state ballots and because numerical ties in the electoral college are broken in the House of Representatives - where the two parties dominate - certain issues of concern to the Black electorate never come up or are only addressed in times of social unrest when one of the two parties moves to earn electoral votes from calming the social disequilibrium caused by an irate minority.

In the post civil war era, Blacks in the U.S have only had one relationship with the two-party system: one party has taken the Black vote for granted while the other has ignored it and the Black electorate has suffered with only one or two "Black" issues permitted upon the presidential agenda in an election year.

Independent and third-parties that champion issues that are relevant and supported by Blacks are not allowed a seat at the national table because of ballot access laws that discriminate against them and which make it difficult for them to become national in scope. Under a popular vote system such barriers could be circumvented, as regions with populations of varying backgrounds would become increasingly important, as would independent parties with considerable influence in different parts of the country.

Without having to worry about becoming a "national" party - Independent political parties could hold considerable influence and even determine what issues were addressed in various regions.

And as independent parties became stronger on a state and regional level, all political parties, including Democrats and Republicans, would be forced to become responsive to Black concerns in their efforts to win seats in the US Congress and the various governor's mansions.

The key to understanding all of this is that once the popular vote takes precedence over the Electoral College, campaigns will be run differently as candidates will go to areas with the largest populations.

Theoretically, a candidate could win the presidency by winning New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit as opposed to a variety of states under the Electoral College system.

The emphasis in campaigns would move toward heavily populated urban areas with large Black populations as candidates seek to win the most amount of votes with the least amount of time and travel.

And if states are what a candidate still wanted to focus on, under a popular vote system, a candidate could win an enormous amount of votes in Texas, California, New York, Florida, and Michigan while ignoring the rest of the country. That would mean that specific issues of concern and state and regional political parties in any of these areas would receive attention by the presidential candidate(s) as opposed to "national" issues that are poll-tested for the most popularity with the least amount of alienation.

But because Blacks traditionally vote as one "nation" they would benefit disproportionately as their issues would be similar across regional and state lines.

The increased focus on local and state issues championed by local majority groups who are national minorities, would make it harder for the Republicans and Democrats to hold their broad-based coalitions together which seek to please everyone and offend only a few.

A political realignment of epic proportions would result.

Under this scenario, once the duopoly of the two-party system was broken and independent parties became more influential, candidates for president would have to campaign with different messages to different parts of the country or one message that the candidate determines in advance would have regional appeal or appeal across different regions among different groups.

Some say that this would balkanize the country further but I think that it would disaggregate the majority even further while giving minority groups a greater voice in political affairs.

While some focus on the possibility that eliminating the electoral college would give Blacks less power as the national nature of their numerical minority status would become more obvious, I think that such an effect would be more than compensated by an increased disaggregation of the majority along regional and state lines through the increased power of independent parties.

And if a Black-led political party, open to all, were established while the rest of the majority was being divided, it would increase Black political power as never before.

Not to mention the development of a Mexican-led political party that could effectively win election after election in the Southwest United States.

A scenario could develop where the Black-led political party dominated politics in urban areas throughout the country particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S and pockets in the Southeast.; the Mexican-led party would hold sway in the Southwestern US and the white majority's interests would dominant in the Midwest, Northwest and parts of the South Eastern U.S.

If the white majority did not mind sharing power, it could result a government that is more "for the people and by the people" than any that we have had under the Electoral College system.

If the white majority could not tolerate the sight of increased power for Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans it could be the beginning of the disintegration of America into ethnic territories and even one day - separate nations.

So if there are legitimate reasons to end the Electoral College, for Blacks, they have nothing to do with Al Gore or George W. Bush and everything to do with increased Black political power. If a Black-led political party, open to all, were established while the rest of the majority was being divided, it would increase Black political power as never before. Not to mention the development of a Mexican-led political party that could effectively win election after election in the Southwest United States. A scenario could develop where the Black-led political party dominated politics in urban areas throughout the country particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S.; the Mexican-led party would hold sway in the Southwestern US and the white majority's interests would dominant in the Midwest, Northwest and South Eastern U.S. If the white majority did not mind sharing power, it could result a government that is more "for the people and by the people" than any that we have had under the Electoral College system. If the white majority could not tolerate the site of increased power for Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans it could be the beginning of the disintegration of America into ethnic territories and even one day - separate nations.

But what would that say about America, if a white majority could not tolerate increased political power among the nations other ethnic groups?

So if there are legitimate reasons to end the Electoral College, for Blacks, they have nothing to do with Al Gore or George W. Bush and everything to do with increased Black political power.


Cedric Muhammad

Monday, November 13, 2000

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