No, the Electoral College Is Not ‘Affirmative Action’ for Rural Voters ⋆ Dc Gazette

No, the Electoral College Is Not ‘Affirmative Action’ for Rural Voters

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
loves to hate on the Electoral College. Once again, she has the nation up in
arms about America’s unique presidential election system.

The Electoral College, the
New York Democrat said on Instagram last week, is a “scam” that “effectively
weighs white voters over voters of color.” Then on Friday afternoon, she
doubled down, tweeting that the Electoral College is nothing more than “affirmative
action” for rural voters.

In her view, rural areas are
too white—and too powerful in presidential elections.

Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez should
take a step back in time. Civil rights leaders once had a different view, and
they came out in force to argue for the preservation of the Electoral

“Take away the Electoral College,”
National Urban League President Vernon Jordan wrote in 1977, “and the
importance of that black vote melts away. Blacks, instead of being crucial to
victory in major states, simply become 10% of the total electorate, with
reduced impact.” 

Indeed, he and other civil
rights leaders noted benefits of the Electoral College that tend to be ignored

First, the winner-take-all
allocation of votes in the Electoral College prevents third-party extremists from
succeeding at the national level.

In 1968, segregationist Gov. George
Wallace of Alabama struggled to make a good showing, even though he had strong
regional support. Civil rights leaders at the time noticed—and they even praised
his defeat in congressional testimony.

Second, the concentration of
black voters in certain large metropolitan areas can be an advantage, at least
in some states.

“[T]he real issue,” Jordan
told Congress in 1979, “is not only one of how many black voters are located in
which states, but where blacks can reasonably expect to build coalitions with
other minorities and whites to achieve true justice and equality.”

In other words, shared concerns within urban areas lead to coalition-building. Jordan called this “the empathy factor.” In those parts of the country, coalitions can swing a large metropolitan area—and thus an entire state.

Perhaps New York voters outside
of Ocasio-Cortez’s district can feel this pain: Upstate New York voters are
constantly outvoted by New York City. Voters in that metropolitan area swing
the state’s entire block of 29 electors, regardless of what the state’s rural
voters prefer.

Rural New York voters are
surely puzzled to hear Ocasio-Cortez describe them as “too powerful.”

Jordan’s testimony must be bewildering
to Electoral College defenders who argue that the system gives small states and
rural areas a leg up at election time. Who is right?

Somewhat confusingly, both sides are right. Urban areas are not always as powerful as Jordan hoped. They might be able to swing certain states, but they can’t swing the whole country, either.

On the other hand, urban areas aren’t as weak as Ocasio-Cortez says. Rural voters in California, New York, and Illinois would surely testify to that.

In short, the Electoral
College creates balance in our political system in many ways—and this
unexpected balance of power between urban and rural areas is just one of them.

At the end of the day,
charges of racism in our presidential election are simply silly. The Electoral
College serves everyone. It does this by creating a careful balance between
large states and small, urban areas and rural.

Ultimately, and as a matter
of history, the Electoral College rewards those presidential candidates or
political parties that do the best job of listening to a wide variety of
voters. Those who decided to double down with their base and ignore the rest of
the country usually end up losing. That’s a blessing for everyone in our

Recent close elections have
come about because everyone keeps forgetting these important underlying
purposes of the Electoral College. Many have neglected to build coalitions.
Both parties are instead catering to their bases.

Consequently, the first party
to reach out to create broad coalitions will also start winning presidential
elections in landslides.

Perhaps Jordan summed it up
best when he told Congress many years ago that the Electoral College “forces
candidates to deal with a broad variety of issues and thus requires a degree of
responsibility that direct elections would weaken.”

Here’s hoping that our
political parties decides to take his wise advice.

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