The electoral college makes it such that large segments of the population are essentially denied the power of their vote.
It is important to recognize that labeling a particular system as “democratic” says absolutely nothing about the degree of democracy that system incorporates. For example, we in the United States keep learning how the United States was one of the first democracies ever–an idiotic and absurd notion, considering that the majority of the population (everybody not a straight, land-owning white male) had no voting rights whatsoever, and that a significant number of the population (slaves) had the worst kind of totalitarianism forced on their daily lives. Some democracy!
And while I don’t consider the US model of representative democracy to be the ideal form of democracy, the existence of the electoral college means that the US doesn’t even live up to its own mediocre standards of representation and democracy. Turns out that despite the suffering of Black activists throughout the 20th century, and the gains made during the Civil Rights movements, the practical effects of the electoral college makes it such that the political system would hardly be affected if Jim Crow laws and poll taxes were still marginalizing Blacks from voting.
Bob Wing in his paper Notes Toward a Social Justice Electoral Strategy makes a powerful case against the electoral college, and exposes how absurd the “democratic” label is when applied to the United States.
About 53 percent of all Blacks live in the Southern states, and they normally vote about 90 percent Democratic. However, in almost every election white Republicans out-vote them in every Southern state and every border state except Maryland.
Every single other southern Electoral College vote was awarded to Bush in 2000 and 2004. While whites voted 54-42 for Bush nationally in 2000, southern whites gave him over 70 percent of their votes in both 2000 and 2004. They thus completely erased the massive Southern Black vote for the Democrats in that region.
The Electoral College result was the same as if African Americans in the South had not voted at all.
This is depressing. How can a system be considered democratic if the complete lack of participation by millions of people produces no measurable change in the outcome? If the practical effects of a “democratic” institution are to completely erase the voice of an entire race, how can such a label be looked upon with anything other than derision? How is this, on the practical level, any different from burning ballots cast by the opposition, or intimidating voters into staying at home, or any of the other methods used in other countries to silence opposition and protect the ruling elites?
There are several implications from this very simple observation:
- The “degree” of democracy is important. Some democracies are more democratic than others, and we should be fighting to make the society in which we live in more and more democratic, especially in light of the dominance of explicitly repressive institutions like the electoral college.
- The United States should not be considered a functioning representative democracy; the existence of the electoral college and its practical effects on silencing entire populations is enough reason to reject such a label. And keep in mind that the electoral college acts in conjunction with a host of other oppressive institutions, such as the winner-take-all system (as opposed to the proportional representation system used in continental Europe), gerrymandering, and the nature of economic power in liberal democracies.
- The electoral college is a key barrier to progressive change. While I don’t think that representative democracy is the end-all be-all to democratic structures, I do appreciate people’s efforts to try and use existing structures to improve people’s lives–however, if such people do not identify the authoritarian nature of the electoral college and rally to abolish it, then they deserve to be openly sneered at.