Biden won the Electoral College. Now he should call for it to be abolished.

  • Black voters across the country — especially in Atlanta and Philadelphia — helped secure Joe Biden's Electoral College win.
  • But thanks to the way the Electoral College works, their votes count less than their white counterparts.
  • If Biden wants to push back against the narrative that the Democratic Party takes Black voters for granted, the least he could do is call to reform the way we vote for president.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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President-elect Joe Biden is the undisputed winner of the electoral college, and the first thing he should do in office is call to abolish it.

While most of the frustration over the Electoral College is focused on the amplification of rural votes over those in urban areas, there is also another problem with this archaic institution that deserves attention: its effect on the voices of voters of color.

Biden's voters — especially southern voters of color that effectively granted him the nomination in March and have been instrumental in securing his general election victory — deserve to be represented accurately, and under the electoral college system, many of their votes are rendered less powerful than their white counterparts. If Biden wants to combat the rising narrative that Democrats take their Black constituents for granted, fighting to increase the value of that demographic's vote should be a top priority.

Weakness in numbers

11 years after the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, the earliest American politicians held the Congressional Convention to decide how the newly christened country should go about choosing a leader, but there was some immediate contention.

Some wanted Congress to choose the president, while others vouched for a democratic vote of the people. Eventually, they landed on a system which dictated that a number of electors from each state would be responsible for voting for the president, and that the electoral number would be pursuant to the given state's population.

Texas A&M political science Professor George Edwards notes that the electoral college was never meant to be the perfect system, but rather something that was slapped together out of fatigue. "They were tired, impatient, frustrated. They cobbled together this plan because they couldn't agree on anything else," he told History.

More problems came about when those politicians worried that states where enslaved people made up a gigantic share of the population — such as Virginia where 60% of the population was enslaved — would get too many electors. So, the founders had to find middle ground, leading to the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise. They decided that Black enslaved people would count as three-fifths of a person when considering a state's population, and therefore its electors. 

The Three-Fifths compromise, a function of the electoral college, sought to devalue Black presence in America. 233 years later, the Three-fifth compromise is gone, but the legacy of suppression remains with us.

Repeal and replace

Biden has already told the New York Times that he doesn't support abolishing the electoral college because it "raises problems that are more damaging than the problem that exists," referring to the divisive nature of such a pursuit. That stance is nothing less than an insult to the voters of color that gave him the Democratic nomination. It also underscores popular criticism from Biden's left that the Democratic party takes the votes of Black people for granted.

That sentiment has also been appropriated by far-right influencers like Candace Owens as a reason for Black voters to consider another party, and while the possibility of that happening is incredibly unlikely, it does give me pause that Democrats haven't been interested in combating the narrative. Without even considering a call to reform our voting system, you can't help but come to the conclusion that Biden is largely okay with how the Black vote is valued in this country.

Because electoral votes are given based on population, and because of the way racial demographics are dispersed geographically, the white vote is worth more than the vote of other ethnicities. A calculation done by Vox found that a white person's vote has 16% more power than a Black person's vote, 28% more power than a Latino's vote, and 58% more power than other people of color, including Asian Americans, Native Americans, and more.

Let's apply this practically. According to the US Census Bureau, Wyoming has the country's smallest population with about 600,000 residents. California is home to 40 million people, more than all of Canada combined. Each of the three electors in Wyoming represent around 200,000 people, while each of California's 55 electors represent about 700,000 people. That alone gives Wyoming's electoral votes more representation than California's 55, but when you consider that Wyoming is 83% white and that California is only 38% white, the result is that the votes of people of color have less influence than the white electorate.

Most states have passed laws which guarantee its electoral votes to the winner of its popular vote, but the fact remains that votes of color are actively under valued. As the Vox study above states emphasizes, when a campaign zeros in on counties or states that have flipping potential, they are effectively targeting groups that are not representative of the country, and are, for that reason, being overvalued.

It would be difficult to abolish the electoral college. Congress would have to pass a new amendment to the constitution which would require the support of two-thirds of the House and the Senate. But Biden is now the president-elect and can help shape what the Democrats choose to pursue in the future. Who better to call for reform of the electoral college than the winner of the electoral college himself?

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).

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