The past three weeks since the general election have highlighted a few fundamental and ugly truths about American politics. The first of these ugly truths is that the Electoral College is an obsolete, yet perfect institution. The second ugly truth is that politicians on both sides of the aisle have contributed to and even facilitated the practices of segregation and disenfranchisement that enabled President-elect Donald Trump’s sweeping victory in the Electoral College. The third is that we as citizens and voters have, across the board, been both complacent with and largely unaware of this strange but powerful intersection of local and national politics.
Though the Electoral College was initially formed to ensure proportional representation for citizens living in sparsely populated areas of the country, the pattern and practice of systemic discrimination have undermined the supposed egalitarian purpose of the Electoral College. These institutional practices of discrimination include the manipulation of boundaries for voting populations to favor the political party in power (gerrymandering), intimidation of voters through propaganda and violent threats (voter intimidation), systematic geographical disenfranchisement, mass incarceration and segregation.
For example, Ohio’s voting districts are drawn in such a way that populations who historically vote Democrat are grouped into areas surrounding Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, regardless of their proximity to these cities . The remaining districts, a largely rural population, now represent a homogenous, mostly white and right-leaning majority in the state of Ohio, even if the majority of the state’s population vote as Democrats. For a candidate whose platform and rhetoric capitalize on the ghettoization and demonization of marginalized populations, a gerrymandered state makes it that much easier to sway its electoral votes toward the party in power. Combined with voter intimidation through propaganda and violent threats, as well as the lack of extensive voter education in our city’s low-income neighborhoods, it is not that surprising Trump won both Ohio and the election.
While it is easy to cast blame on the center and far right for the outcome of this election and the dysfunction of the Electoral College, it must be noted that politicians like Hillary Clinton have also enabled and even facilitated discriminatory voting restrictions. For example, during her time as first lady, Clinton was a strong proponent for increased minimum and mandatory sentencing even for nonviolent offenders. Throughout the 1990s, these sentiments were then translated into policy, thereby removing a significant number of black and brown men and women from voting populations nationwide.
It’s not just mass incarceration that removes large numbers of marginalized people from the voting population; over the past several years, efforts have been made to discreetly repeal the rights ensured by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For example, in 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that states would be able to change their election laws without federal approval. This ruling had an effect in mostly Southern states, inhabited by a sizeable black majority, and since the ruling significant strides have been made to restrict access for black and brown people to voter education and registration.
The United States overall, as indicated by the turnout of the popular vote, did not necessarily subscribe to the blatantly racist rhetoric of the Trump campaign, but we have for a number of years been complicit in the systems that made this victory for the far right possible. Though it is unlikely that a recount of votes in key swing states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania will uncover mass voter fraud (thereby reversing the electoral college win), it is worth noting that other oppressive practices built into our institutions are at play and may have facilitated Trump’s victory.
Therefore, it is not enough to just say that the Electoral College must go. This argument must be taken a step further to address the pervasive discrimination on local, state and national levels that is perpetuated by both parties. Moving forward over the next four years with a Republican Congress, a Republican White House and an open seat on the Supreme Court, it is critical that the voting age population across the United States, especially those of us in university, take a more proactive stance in the electoral politics of our nation. It’s one thing to complain about the ‘ineffectiveness’ of the Electoral College, but it’s time to take steps to become educated voters and pressure our officials to be truly responsible to the people.