The Founding Fathers proposed a representative form of democracy in which each state would have equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House based on population. Slave states opposed this because, with smaller white populations, they would have less representation in the House and less influence in national politics. Southern states would not ratify the Constitution unless they could count their slaves.

Some Founding Fathers felt the Southern demand to count those they didn’t consider people for representation was absurd. A compromise allowing slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person was passed. This compromise gave Southern states a disproportional advantage in the House on national politics.

The compromise settled congressional representation, but not presidential elections. Southern states would have little influence if a popular vote elected presidents. Wealthy Northern men opposed a popular vote too because they thought the common man wasn’t intelligent enough to elect a good president. A compromise, the Electoral College, giving each state one presidential vote per congressional member, was passed. This compromise gave Southern states greater proportional influence in electing the president. Southern states have defeated every attempt to change the Electoral College because it would limit their political power.

The Electoral College was last challenged in the 1968 presidential election. If the popular third-party candidate, George Wallace, got enough electoral votes to prevent anyone from getting the 270 votes necessary to win, Wallace could then leverage his votes to slow down integration and Black equality. Wallace didn’t get enough votes, but to eliminate a future three-way electoral vote split, the House passed a constitutional amendment to elect presidents with a national popular vote.

The bill then went to the Senate and was blocked by Sen. James Eastland, a rabid segregationist and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. With a national popular vote, Southern states would have to allow Black people to vote, allowing the Civil Rights movement’s demand for equality to happen more quickly.

Letting everyone vote is a terrifying idea to some. If voting were not so powerful, voter suppression would not be given the attention it is.

In theory, our election system counts every vote, and every vote matters. In reality, only the votes cast by those who are allowed to vote (not necessarily everyone who has the right to vote) are counted, and only the electoral votes matter.

The Electoral College is a threat to our democracy. It reinforces a two-party system, and creates political division by making a state’s predominate party votes the only ones that matter. It destroys the one-person/one-vote rule, causing lower voter turnout in states where one party is dominant.

Under the Electoral College, candidates can win with a minority of the people’s vote, and candidates only campaign in battleground states with significant electoral votes. In the 2012 presidential election, all 253 general-election campaign events were held in 12 states, 66% of those were held in four states, and candidates ignored 38 states.

What can be done to make every vote matter and preserve our democracy in the process? Support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It keeps the Electoral College, a state’s right to determine how a president is elected, and doesn’t require a constitutional amendment. The National Popular Vote asks states to require their electors to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote.

According to supporters, “The National Popular Vote bill will take effect when enacted into law by states possessing 270 electoral votes (a majority of the 538 electoral votes). As of July 2020, it has been enacted into law in 16 jurisdictions possessing 196 electoral votes, including four small states (Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont), eight medium-sized states (Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington), three big states (California, Illinois and New York), and the District of Columbia. The bill will take effect when enacted by states possessing an additional 74 electoral votes.”

The National Popular Vote would increase the people’s voice through more choice by making it likely third-party candidates will be more viable. It would reduce political division by ensuring everyone’s vote matters, and preserve the one-person/one-vote rule. It would increase voter turnout, reduce voter suppression, guarantee the winning candidate has a collective majority of votes cast in all 50 states and encourage presidential candidates to pay attention to voters’ concerns in every state.

Electing presidents through a National Popular Vote will help build equality. According to The Atlantic, “Today, a (political party) that appeals primarily to white Christian voters is fighting a losing battle. The Electoral College, Supreme Court, and Senate may delay defeat for a time, but they cannot postpone it forever.”

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at [email protected]


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