This post is not intended as a critical statement about the ultimate outcome of the presidential election last Tuesday. If one believes in democracy paired with the power of an absolute majority and the equality of all people—independent of gender and ethnicity—being the highest goods a free nation has to strive for, one also has to accept the fact that at times the outcome of an election may collide with one’s worldview.
But that’s also the crux of the matter. Irrespective of this week’s popular vote, the American people are not as equal as the famous passage of the constitution suggests. Putting aside the even less transparent discontinuities implied by the block vote of a state’s electoral college (which encourages parties and their candidates to go after the pivotal voter in a non-exhaustive number states rather than the national one), an elector in Texas is represented by approximately 700,000 voters whereas a member of Wyoming’s college is backed by around 180,000. In an overly simplistic way, that means that a Wyoming vote weighs about four times as much as the vote of a Texan.
Even worse, the electoral college goes back in part to James Madison and his three fifth rule, a rule ensuring the ability of the south to prevail in presidential elections by allocating three fifth of the vote of a “free man” to every slave. Far more scandalous than the fact that votes were not equally important, weighed the fact that this three fifth vote did not even allow slaves to express their free will at lower value but effectively endowed their owner with one massive vote.
Now, slavery has long gone, but inexplicably the inequality of votes remained. The American presidential election, as of now, is based on an imbecilic (and non-transparent to its actors) concept partially based on an even worse ancient rule. While Americans are known to be rather mobile when compared to other nations, the high ratio of people living in the state where they were born suggests that the choice of where to settle is far from a free one for many. Thus, essentially the electoral college system discriminates by birth place.
Many voices currently point at the popular vote with frustration and express the need for change. These comments are however identical to what we heard after the 2000 presidential election. Due to the fact that the electoral college favors parties with more support in rural areas, the incentive to switch to a popular vote is one-sided. Thus, do not expect the popular vote to come in the foreseeable future as it would require a wide consensus. In particular, the so-called swing states are unlikely to collaborate as it would significantly diminish their importance.
While we have undoubtedly seen progress since the three fifth rule, there is so much yet to do to eradicate discrimination from our daily lives. The electoral college system, though, will happily guarantee that many living in the self-proclaimed leading country of the free world are discriminated by birth, independent of how much we achieve on other fronts.