National

Origins of Electoral College Steeped in Slavery

A recount of votes in the presidential election is underway in Wisconsin and — at press time — clerks in Pennsylvania and Michigan may have also began thumbing through ballots thanks to Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has raised more than $6 million for the effort.

If Stein is correct and the votes in those swing states prove Hillary Clinton to be the actual winner, then the former secretary of state could claim an Electoral College victory and the presidency.

And as long a shot as that scenario is, a petition with millions of signatures and a “Never Trump” movement still refuses to die.

Now Clinton’s team has joined the call for recounts and are among those holding out hope that a large enough swath of Electoral College voters will change and go against a Trump presidency.

The Electoral College casts the official votes for president on Dec. 19.

The argument against the process was recently spelled out in a PBS documentary, which noted that when the founders of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 considered whether America should let the people elect their president through a popular vote, James Madison said “Negroes” in the South presented a “difficulty … of a serious nature.”

During that same speech on July 19, Madison instead proposed a prototype for the same Electoral College system the country uses today. Each state has a number of electoral votes roughly proportioned to population and the candidate who wins the majority of votes wins the election.

Since then, the Electoral College system has cost four candidates the race after they received the popular vote — most recently in 2000, when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush.

This year, Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million.

Madison, now known as the “Father of the Constitution,” was a slave owner in Virginia, which at the time was the most populous of the 13 states if the count included slaves, who comprised about 40 percent of its population, PBS reported.

During that speech, Madison said that with a popular vote, Southern states, “could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”

Madison knew that the North would outnumber the South, despite there being more than a half-million slaves in the South who were their economic vitality, but could not vote. His proposition for the Electoral College included the “three-fifths compromise,” where black people could be counted as three-fifths of a person, instead of a whole.

This clause garnered the state 12 out of 91 electoral votes, more than a quarter of what a president needed to win.

“None of this is about slaves voting,” said Paul Finkelman, a visiting law professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada who wrote a paper on the origins of the Electoral College for a symposium after Gore lost.

“These debates are in part about political power and the fundamental immorality of counting slaves for giving political power to the master class,” he said.

Finkelman said the Electoral College’s three-fifths clause enabled Thomas Jefferson, who owned more than a hundred slaves, to beat out John Adams, who was opposed to slavery, since the South had a stronghold.

While slavery was abolished, and the Civil War led to citizenship and voting rights for blacks, the Electoral College remained intact.

So who are these individuals who have the ultimate say in the presidential election and would they consider changing their vote?

In total, there are 538 members who comprise the Electoral College and they each gather in their respective state capitals to cast the formal vote for president.

They are selected at state and local party conventions and are almost always supportive of their party’s candidate.

To be chosen as an elector, an individual must not be a senator or congressman or hold any office of trust or profit in the country.

The slate of 20 Republican electors in Pennsylvania include Robert Asher of Montgomery County and owner of Asher’s Chocolates, Mary Barket of Northampton County and president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Republican Women, Margaret Ferraro, a teacher at the Nazareth Area Middle School and chairman of the Northampton County Republican Committee, and Gloria Lee Snover, an Easton real estate broker and Republican delegate.

In Michigan, the slate of 16 electors include Trump backer John Haggard, retired Hope College professor Jack Holmes, state GOP outreach chair Kelly Mitchell and former Wayne, Michigan, Republican Party leader Ken Crider.

In Wisconsin, the 10 electors there include conservative Kim Travis, Third District elector Brian Westrate and District GOP chair Jim Miller.

Westrate has previously gone on record against Trump.

“I didn’t vote for Trump [in the primary election]. I am not a Trump supporter,” Westrate said.

While Clinton’s national popular vote lead continues to rise and currently sits at more than 2 million, Trump won 306 of the crucial electoral votes, while Clinton is at 236.

If all the electorates vote for Trump, he’ll easily exceed the 270-vote majority he needs to become president and will be sworn in to office on Jan. 20.

That’s why the anti-Trump force needs 37 Republican defections.

Reportedly, dozens of Republican electors have signaled discomfort with Trump, but most have committed to supporting him despite their misgivings.

Only a handful have said they’d consider voting against him in the Electoral College.

“The electoral college was the tremendous compromise that brought our founding states together,” said Republican Pennsylvania state Rep. David Parker. “It has stood the test of time and unwinding the electoral college after an election would produce civil war.

“Each campaign using the most advanced political technology and campaign experts undertook their best strategy to win 270 electoral college votes,” Parker said. “Neither campaign set out to win the popular vote.”

Since the founding of the nation, Pennsylvania remains the keystone state, with critical electoral votes to win by canvassing the entire state, not just Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Parker said.

“The past elections have been very close and we faced similar questions on popular vote versus Electoral College,” he said. “I hope the nation unifies and we start working on solutions to fix the United States’ and Pennsylvania’s challenges. We are a stronger nation when we work together to craft, strong bipartisan solutions.”

One prominent Electoral College critic says even if Trump wins easily on Dec. 19, a small number of Republican defections could still roil the future of the institution.

“If you could get eight or 10 Trump electors to vote for someone else then that would probably get people’s attention,” said George Edwards III, a political science professor and Electoral College expert at Texas A&M University. “We haven’t ever had that many faithless electors in one election.”

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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