The Electoral College is Racist
Mathematically, and by design
By: Matthew Barad, June 1, 2019
On Monday, USA Today contributor Trent England published a column titled: Rural Americans would be serfs if we abolished the Electoral College. Presented as a good-faith defense of the Electoral College, England’s piece argues that the institution is necessary to protect rural Americans from the tyranny of metropolitan elites.
On its face, this argument seems straightforward and fairly innocent. Though it has some major flaws (eg: the Senate already protects rural states, and New York City hardly tyrannizes the rest of the state in spite of directly electing their Governor), it is easy to write off Mr. England’s piece as yet another well intentioned, if poorly argued, defense of the status quo.
However, whether or not it was intentional, his defense of the “rural states” from the would-be tyrannical cities is a barely obscured racist dog whistle. Rural states are imagined as white and conservative. The cities (which are supposedly destined to turn farmers into serfs) are largely seen as left leaning and diverse. When Trent sets “rural Americans” (read: white people) as a soon-to-be-oppressed class by city-dwellers (read: non-white people), he is playing into a fascist talking point.
Even without the implication, however, by defending the mythical white rural voter, he is also defending a system which can be mathematically shown to disenfranchise nonwhite voters — even after the ballots are counted.
Using the Kaiser Foundation’s demographic estimates, we can check exactly how much more a white American’s vote matters than that of a nonwhite peer. By multiplying each racial group’s proportion in each state by that state’s electoral votes, we can calculate how many electors each racial group has; and, by multiplying each racial group’s total proportion in the USA as a whole, we can determine how many electors each group would have if the Electoral College were decided by the national popular vote alone. All of this work can be found here.
White Americans make up roughly 60% of the population, meaning (if the EC were representative) they should receive roughly 326 electoral votes. In actuality, the high concentration of white voters in Mr. England’s rural states gives them 335 votes. This means white Americans are over-represented by 9 electoral votes — the equivalent of South Carolina’s vote share.
Black Americans, who are more concentrated in urban and populous states, are underrepresented by 2 electoral votes. Asian-Americans are being robbed of another. Between these two groups, a Wyoming’s-worth of electors is being stolen every four years.
Hispanic and Latinx people suffer the most from the EC’s bias towards white rural states. Proportionally to their population, this group should receive 98 electoral votes. Instead, they receive just 90. This means that Hispanic voters alone are robbed of a Louisiana’s worth of electors each Presidential cycle.
Initially created to give slave states more power, it would seem that the EC is carrying on the long and proud tradition of constitutional racism.
All of that aside, the Electoral College means that a group’s opinion only matters in so far as they can win a majority in their state. Even in New York and California, nonwhite voters alone cannot form a winning voting block. If Mr. England were really concerned with the plight of the unrepresented American, he should focus on the black and Hispanic voters who live in conservative white-majority states — under the Electoral College, their votes are mathematically irrelevant to the Presidency. Both historically and principally they are much more at risk of being forced into serfdom than a white rancher from Nebraska.
Compared to the EC’s wider racist history, I grant that this structural bigotry is relatively minor. However, in a time of rising white nationalism, and in a time where Latinx peoples in particular are being targeted with racism, we cannot afford to overlook this injustice.
The Electoral College, alongside most everything else in American Society, privileges the votes of white people at the expense of nearly all others. Trent England’s article is more than an impotent defense of the status quo — it is a defense of structural racism, clothed in dog-whistles, and intended to maintain Amerika’s racist history.