Why the fuck do we have the electoral college anyway? Let’s discuss this shit show

The electoral college, despite being a system that not too many Americans fully understood prior to Tuesday night, has not been popular this past week. And honestly, with good reason. Considering how this election put the system’s problems on full display and ultimately left us with an incompetent sexual predator who ran his campaign on fear mongering and bigotry for president, now more than ever, it’s worth discussing why we have the electoral college anyway.

It’s not like all the historic and systemic problems with the electoral college never existed prior to this, or that there haven’t been plenty of think pieces and critiques of the system since the dawn of time (or, like, 2000 at least). The fact is that of the last four general elections, twice we’ve seen the winner of the popular vote lose the election due to the system in place — in Hillary Clinton’s case, by roughly 2 million votes as of Tuesday.

Revisionist historians often cast the motives behind the electoral college as a desire for balance of power between big and small states of vastly different population sizes. President-elect Donald Trump, who took to Twitter earlier this week to do a complete 180 from his 2012 stance and sing the electoral college’s praises, certainly appeared to believe this was the case.

The reality, however, as Akhil Reed Amar at Time notes, is that the electoral college was never about balancing representation of small and big states, but the North and South. In a direct popular election, floated by northerners at the Philadelphia convention of 1787, the North would crush the South, whose huge population of slaves could not vote.

The electoral college also appeared to mitigate, or at least help to delay the process of dealing with slavery, a hugely contentious issue between the North and South that the founding fathers knew was bound to erupt eventually. The electoral college, at least on some level, enabled this, and for the first 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years of being ratified, a white slaveholder won the presidency in a troubling commentary on the electoral college’s bend favoring slavery and racial oppression.

If slavery and balancing the interests of the North and South were the justifications for the electoral college in the 18th and early 19th centuries, it’s difficult to imagine what the justifications for this system are today. Just as many have come to argue that apparently deeply inaccurate polling preceding Election Day served as a form of voter suppression by affecting how and whether or not people voted, it could be argued that the electoral college in itself is a form of mass voter suppression.

When your overwhelmingly blue or red state reaches a certain quota of votes, your ballot becomes virtually useless and the knowledge of this keeps many from voting. This could be one explanation for why roughly 46 percent of Americans sat this critically important election out. They feel their values and actions don’t matter, because unless they live in a swing state, this is often the case. In many ways, the electoral college deeply undermines the premise of “one man, one vote” and the notions of equality this law/catchy slogan is meant to promote. The value of your vote is ultimately determined by the state you live in and the political leanings and decisiveness of your state.

Watching Clinton’s popular vote victory continue to surge a week after the election, and knowing that because of the state you live in, your vote essentially holds no weight, is an indescribably shitty feeling that will more than likely dictate how eligible voters vote (and whether or not they vote at all) in elections to come.

I have struggled this whole week to decipher some possible benefits to electing Trump, and maybe, just maybe, the dialogue that his victory has inspired about the fucked up nature of the electoral college could count as one. After all, California Senator Barbara Boxer introduced legislation Tuesday to overhaul the electoral college system, and while efforts to overturn an institution our nation was essentially founded on are likely to be in vain, people are taking action. We have to start somewhere, and it’s a huge deal that we’re seeing real, consequential legislation being proposed, and having this discussion at all.