Deep Roots

Actually, the Electoral College Was a Pro-Slavery Ploy
Akhil Reed Amar, April 6, 2019, The New York Times



Many Americans are critical of the Electoral College, an attitude that seems to have intensified since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election despite losing the popular vote. These critics often make two arguments: first, that electing the president by direct popular vote would be preferable in a democracy; and second, that the Electoral College has disreputable origins, having been put into the Constitution to protect the institution of slavery.

Defenders of the Electoral College often counter that it was designed not to help maintain slavery but for other reasons, many of them still relevant, such as to balance the power of big states against that of small states. (Even some critics of the Electoral College have made this argument.)

Both sides are misguided. There are legitimate reasons to keep the Electoral College system, odd and creaky though it may be, but we must accept the fact that it does have deep roots in efforts by the founders to accommodate slavery.

The Electoral College was not mainly designed to balance big states against small states. It certainly did not have that effect: Eight of the first nine presidential elections were won by candidates who were plantation owners from Virginia, then America’s biggest state. Only three candidates from small states have ever been elected president: Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce and Bill Clinton.


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