The Electoral College: Another Front in the War Against Labor

The Electoral College – the way we pick our president and vice president – is all about cheap labor. When it was put into place in 1789, it was to give slaveholders a greater national voice – part of a compromise with the slave states to keep them in the union. So back then, it was all about cheap labor – slavery.

But it’s still about preserving cheap labor in America, although we no longer call it slavery, and it’s still all about giving more power and influence to the barons of the cheap-labor states.

Here’s how.

We like to believe our Founding Fathers had infinite wisdom on this issue. We like to believe that they carefully crafted an electoral system that would level the playing fields among states – preventing larger states from drowning out the voices of smaller states.

We like to believe that they had some larger idea about how states should interact with each other every four years to elect our Commander-in-Chief.

But they didn’t. At the founding of our nation, the issue with regard to the Senate was, indeed, all about small states versus big states. But when it came to the Electoral College picking the president, it was all about preserving the power of slave-owners.

As constitutional scholar and Yale Law School Professor Akhil Amar pointed out about our history, “We never actually have a breakdown in American history between big states and small states. The lineup is more geographic- it’s North against South.”

North against South. And what was the difference between the North and the South at the beginning of our nation? Slavery.

The Electoral College was never created to protect “small states.” It was created to protect “slave states.”

Here was the political problem slave states were facing at the onset of America: There were very few white males – the legal voters of the day – living in those states. Slaves made up large portions of the population in the South – but they weren’t allowed to vote.

When it came to representation in Congress, the slave states found a work-around to this “problem” with the so-called Three-Fifths Compromise, that would have three-fifths of the slaves in a state counted toward the state’s population used to calculate how many members in the House of Representatives a state would have. The goal – and effect – of this was to give the slave states more representation in the House of Representatives than they would have had if only their small population of legal white voters was counted.

With that pin place, when it came to electing a new president, the Three-Fifths Compromise also helped slave states, who had more members of congress per white voter than did the northern non-slave states.

If the president was elected simply by the majority of the votes in the country, the South wouldn’t have that many voters, because they had such large populations of slaves who couldn’t vote.

Therefore, very few votes would be coming out of slave states to determine who the President of the United States would be – meaning the southern slave-owners would be marginalized during Presidential elections. That threatened even the survival of the institution of slavery itself, as so many legal voters in the north opposed it.

Which is why they compromised with the Electoral College. Rather than just having a popular vote choose the winner – like nearly every single other election on every level in our nation – our President is chosen by electors representing the states. The number of electors each state gets is determined by how much representation each state has in Congress: the number of Representatives plus Senators. For example, Florida has 27 Members of the House of Representatives and 2 Senators, thus the state gets 29 Electoral College votes.

So, slave states with small voting populations were given a louder voice in our Congress, thanks to the Three-Fifths Compromise. Then, these slave states were given a louder voice in our Presidential elections, too, because the Electoral College is based on that same inflated Congressional representation. Got it?

Thanks to the Electoral College protecting slave holders, they were able to keep their influence in government for much longer than they likely would have without this system.

Yes, slavery is gone today. But the Electoral College still serves as a system to protect the new “slave owners” and their “more humane” forms of servitude: low-wage, unorganized labor.

The slave states of yesterday have been replaced by the so-called Right-to-Work-for-less states of today.

The Right-to-work-for-less Taft-Hartley law was put into place in 1947 by Republicans in Congress. President Harry Truman vetoed this very anti-worker legislation, but the Republicans overrode his veto, and it’s stuck to this day.

In Right-to-Work-for-less states, workers can opt-out of unions and stop paying union dues, but continue to collect all the benefits of a union like better wages and safer working conditions. What this does is starve unions of revenue, fracture organized labor movements, and ultimately assist the big corporate bosses who want to bust up unions.

As a result, the average worker in a Right-to-Work for less state makes about $5,000 a year LESS than his or her counterpart in other states. Also, 21% more workers lack employee provided health insurance in Right-to-Work for less states. And workplace injuries and deaths are 51% higher in Right-to-work for less states.

Can you say “cheap labor”? That’s what it’s all about, just like that’s what slavery was all about.

If you were to lay a map of slave states from 1850, over a map of so-called Right-to-Work for less states today, they would be nearly identical, with the only exceptions being Kentucky and Missouri, which were slave states but are not yet Right-to-Work-for-less states.

And just like the slave states of old, the Right-to-Work states of today, which generally vote for Republicans, take more benefits from the government than they pay in taxes, and tend to be in the South, and – surprise! – receive a disproportionate boost in the Electoral College.

Again, since the Electoral College factors in the number of Senators each state has, and since each state, regardless of population, gets two Senators, then these smaller, Right-to-Work-for-less states – the former slave states – have an inflated representation in our presidential elections.

As Mo Rocca wonders about the Electoral College in the pages of the New York Times, “Today it certainly favors states with smaller populations: about 139,000 eligible voters in Wyoming get one Electoral College vote. But it takes nearly 478,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania to get an Electoral College vote…Does Wyoming really need to be protected?”

And, no surprise here, Wyoming is a Right-to-Work for less state, and Pennsylvania is not.

So, from the very beginning of our Republic, cheap-labor corporatists were able to manipulate our electoral system to protect their own cheap labor resources – be it slaves in the 19th century or minimum wage workers in the 21st century.

Now that we know the game, isn’t it time to end it and give workers – and not their cheap-labor overlords – more say in our democracy?

Several states are doing just that. Nine states have passed National Popular Vote laws, which commit their electors to vote for whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, even if that candidate lost the state Electoral College vote.

Those nine states that have passed national popular vote laws – including California, Maryland, and Illinois – account for 132 electoral votes among them, nearly half of the 270 needed in the Electoral College to win the White House. If this trend continues, and enough states sign up that their combined Electoral College votes adds up to 270, then the Electoral College dies just like that.

So far, only blue states are on board with this idea. Red states, mostly because their power brokers want to keep cheap labor, still prefer the Electoral College. But looking at the polls heading into this election – where there’s a chance that President Obama could lose the popular vote, yet win the Electoral College count and stay President – then maybe some red states will jump on board with the idea.

For more information, go to