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Lost in the Electoral College

Two of the last six elections where the popular vote did not go to the victor, Gore’s and Clinton’s—rather Bernie’s. This time the popular vote as of 10 a.m., with Clinton about 200,000 ahead of Donald Trump. But note the .07% to “other” (perhaps write-in for Sanders), 3% for the Libertarian (Gary Johnson), 2% for the Green Party (Jill Stein). PLUS, those who balloted but did not vote for president, or those who, in effect, walked with their feet, that is, chose not to go to the polling place. So the numbers grow larger.

And still there is no hue and cry for reform of indirect election. Nor of the weight given to state boundaries where each state, regardless of its population, gets two extra votes. So few of us understand this imbalance. As a Civil War “historian” (the author of three novels
about Lincoln, young and old) I know about the power of the small states (in population, disregarding slaves) Southern states, yet garnering a hefty per cent of additional population for each slave (three-fifths of a person, i.e., 60%), whereby either Southern or
Southern-leaning presidents were likely to be chosen; and hence, guaranteeing appointees to the Supreme Court with opinions/values representing slavery and its extention into the territories. Only the Civil War which took Southern senators and representatives—and presidents! Namely Abraham Lincoln—could amend the U.S. constitution to eradicate slavery.

Once order was achieved and the states which had been in rebellion were restored into the UNION (a word rarely used before the Civil War—the more common word was States, as though they were NOT a unified body)—only then did quasi–slavery get to rear its ugly head. Had Lincoln not been murdered, “reconstruction” (as though a building had been severely damaged and now was under repair) would have been much smoother and fairer, than under Andrew Johnson. See Lincoln’s last speech after the surrender of Lee at Appomattox, where he did not gloat, but described a way to bring Louisiana back into conformity with the union—much to the disappointment of his listeners beyond the White House portico. One of whom was John Wilkes Booth, who was heard to say, words to the effect of That’s it—now I’ll get him! What galled Booth was citizenship for former slaves, which meant voting rights, just like any White Man!

Today we see that heritage, and how those two extra persons in the Electoral College, who are the ones who choose the president (not us), in a close election weigh in and alter to public’s choice.

[Footnote: take a look at the procedures to amend the Constitution: where the very factor you wish to remedy (the weight given to a state now matter how few people live in it) remains a significant hurdle. It’s like withholding medication from a sick person. No inoculation for you, no bone-setter, no midwife, no hospice, no healing hand.]

Tony Wolk is a professor at Portland State and a novelist. 

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