A bug, not a feature

Bill O’Reilly’s been getting a lot of shit for saying this while attempting to deconstruct calls to abolish the Electoral College…

White men have largely abandoned the Democrats, and the left believes it’s because of racism that they want to punish minorities, keep them down. So that’s what’s really going on when you hear about the electoral college and how unfair it allegedly is. Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment. The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with.

And I say the shit-giving is more than justified (seriously, anyone who buys “all men are created equal” should have no problem seeing all forms of privilege assailed). But I also think a little shit should be reserved for what else he said…

Therefore white working class voters must be marginalized, and what better way to do that than center the voting power in the cities?

Two things. First, the let’s not kid ourselves. Of course there are “white working class voters” in cities. Lots and lots of them. When he compares that group to “cities” he’s really talking about rural whites and urban people of color. But that’s not my point. My point is that calls to abolish the Electoral College are not about making them “centers [of] voting power,” they’re about giving those who live in cities an equal vote to those who do not.

The five largest cities in the country are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. Those cities are in five of the six weakest Electoral College states, per capita. New York is dead last at 51 in electoral strength (because the District of Columbia gets electoral votes and, in this one way, counts as a state). California, the country’s most populous state, is the 49th most “powerful” electorally.

One voter in Montana is worth four in New York.

Put another way. The top five states by population are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. Those states represented in 2015 $7.2 trillion of GDP out of a total of $17.9 trillion. They generated 40% of the nation’s economic output and are home to 37% of its people but don’t even get a third of the electoral votes. And that disparity will only grow over time.

Yes, the founders, in all their wisdom, gave us the Electoral College. But it was born from a union of the nefarious three-fifths representation compromise for slave states and a basic distrust of allowing mere voters to decide who should lead the nation. The first is America’s original sin and indefensible, the second an arguably sensible precaution for the first country on Earth to let people choose their equivalent to a monarch. But as we saw earlier in the week, the college has been stripped of its role as a final check of the electorate’s choice. We’ve already destroyed half the college’s function through state statute leaving only the part that cheats some voters of the full function of their franchise.

Those top five states I mentioned have another distinction. All but one is a foregone conclusion heading into a national political contest meaning they get essentially no attention from candidates other than as a source of campaign donations. It is surreal to endorse a system of representational government that penalizes states for being so successful that lots of people move there.

Just as it’s ridiculous to suggest that just because the Electoral College has always been a part of our lives that it must always be one. We give the founders too much credit. While they certainly did many things right, they did a fair share that were wrong. Like I said, they were first. They were doing something nobody had done before at that scale and, through strength of will and rhetoric, made it work. But we shouldn’t fetishize their choices any more than we should give people like Washington and Jefferson a pass for owning slaves. They fucked up some stuff and knew they were likely to be doing so and expected us to fix what they got wrong.

So no, Bill, killing the Electoral College isn’t an attempt to give some an unfair advantage at the expense of others. It’s the literal opposite of that. It’s about making things finally fair for all when it comes to electing presidents.

The Electoral College isn’t a feature, it’s a bug. And it needs to be edited out.