As you watch the U.S. election results unfold tonight, here’s an interesting historical issue to keep in mind — or to work into conversations with friends.
The Electoral College was created, in part, as a compromise to give slaveholders more power.
In the Electoral College system, the number of votes that each state gets is based on the size of its congressional delegation, which in turn is determined by population.
Back in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention, states with large numbers of slaves had a problem.
The slaves would be counted in the census, increasing that state’s congressional delegation. But the slaves would not be allowed to vote, decreasing that state’s power if the presidency were to be determined by national popular vote.
The Electoral College solved this problem, according to George Edwards, who is a presidential scholar at Oxford University and Texas A&M. He’s the author of Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America.
Edwards described the Electoral College’s connection to slavery last Friday in the Washington Post:
“A direct election for president did not sit well with most delegates from the slave states, which had large populations but far fewer eligible voters. They gravitated toward the Electoral College as a compromise because it was based on population. The convention had agreed to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of calculating each state’s allotment of seats in Congress. For Virginia, which had the largest population among the original 13 states, that meant more clout in choosing the president.”
Slavery wasn’t the only consideration when the Electoral College was created.
But it’s important to remember that slavery’s legacy can still be seen in America today.
That’s especially true if tonight’s presidential popular vote is close, and the electoral math determines who wins.