Minorities and the Electoral College
Jude Wanniski
November 20, 2000


Memo To: Cedric Muhammad
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Lani Guinier

Thanks for linking to Lani Guinier’s article in the Nation at your website and re-posting your own comments. I’d actually been wondering what she would have to say about the Electoral College in this interesting situation, as I do consider her the Black American who has been the most thorough in thinking about the importance of the Black vote within the American political complex. Because the Black community only gave 8% of its vote to Governor Bush and he seems on the verge of winning the presidency, even while losing the popular vote, I guess I should not be surprised that Ms. Guinier does not think much of the EC.

Ms. Guinier's argument against the Electoral College is the best I've seen, but it still is not persuasive, even regarding its bias against minorities: She says: "Winner-take-all is the great barrier to representation of political and racial minorities at both the federal and the state level. No blacks or Latinos serve in the U.S. Senate or in any governor's mansion. Third-party candidates did not win a single state legislature race except for a handful in Vermont." What does this have to do with the EC? Senators and Governors are not elected by the EC. Does Ms. Guinier suggest that if the EC gave way to a national popular vote there would be blacks and Latinos elected to the U.S. Senate and state houses?

I believe the EC gives more power to minorities, as it clearly has in this election, and that its elimination would marginalize blacks and Latinos. With polls showing most of the nation clearly with Bush or Gore, the candidates spent the last several weeks focused on the “battleground states” of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida -- where there are higher concentrations of Black voters than there are in the rest of the nation. The Black vote clearly tipped the balance to Vice President Gore in Michigan and Pennsylvania and if it had not massed behind Gore in Florida, we would not still be counting ballots.

I’ve argued for several years that the EC is one of the chief reasons our government has lasted as long as it has and is now the only superpower. By forcing winner-take-all, permanent third parties cannot take root, because it is to the advantage of all interests groups to align with one party or the other in the presidential and the congressional races. I’ve compared it to the basic family unit, where there is two-party leadership in the husband and wife, father and mother. They must compose their differences before making family decisions and it is frequently the case that when the interests of the children are taken into consideration, the majority of the family members will “vote” in favor of the minority. Because of the EC, the United States is the only nation in the world with a two-party system that on the surface may seem to be more turbulent that those nations with many parties, but we finally do come to a conclusion every two and four years. In most of the rest of the world, it is only after the elections are held that coalitions are pieced together to manage the country.

If we had popular voting for President on November 7, we cannot say Gore would have won the election, because both he and the other candidates would have gone about their campaigns in much different ways. Instead of concentrating on the battleground states where the polls showed a dead heat, it’s possible they would have ignored those states and concentrated on areas of the country which showed them trailing badly. When the rules of the game change, the game is played differently. Without the Electoral College, I’m certain our two-party system would quickly come to an end. There would be too much incentive for special interests to come together to found new parties. We might then have several permanent political parties, at least one Black and one Latino party, perhaps even two of each. There would be less, not more pressure on the two dominant parties to court and represent minorities.

I think if was wise of you, Cedric, to suggest caution to your largely Black audience in assuming Blacks would be better off with a popular vote of the President and no EC -- even though you believe that might be the case. You should think through the possible scenarios that might result, including those which would produce less, not more movement in the direction of Black aspirations within the national family. Be careful, or you may get what you wish for. Another old saying, remember, is that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.