Black votes in this country are worth less than white votes. Joe Biden won the Electoral College because Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia turned out in significant numbers. But even with overwhelming Black support—94 percent of Detroit voted for Biden!—the outcomes in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were worryingly close.
We’ll skip over the very real possibility that those close votes were the result of fraud for the sake of the argument.
One core problem is the Electoral College. Wyoming, which has just 580,000 residents and is 93 percent white, gets three electors because of its two senators and one representative in the House. By comparison, Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District—which includes Atlanta, has 710,000 residents, and is 58 percent Black—has no dedicated electors or senators and can only occasionally overcome the mostly white and conservative votes from elsewhere in the state. This devaluation of Black votes allows our political system to ignore Black lives, and the consequences are devastating. Unequal representation has led to unequal health care outcomes, which the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened. Without sufficient voting power, Black communities receive substandard education, and politicians are free to appoint judges who sanction mass incarceration, abusive policing, and electoral disenfranchisement.
This is all by design. The Constitution’s framers set up the Electoral College to protect the interests of slave states. Along with the Senate, the Electoral College was critical in the endurance of slavery and its continuation by other means. Abolishing this system would mean that ballots cast by Black voters—or any voters, for that matter—would count the same.
But there’s another way to undo the damage of the Electoral College and other structurally racist political institutions: We can implement vote reparations by double-counting ballots cast by all Black residents. The poisonous legacy of slavery applies to Black people regardless of when we or our ancestors arrived in this country. Vote reparations should also extend to Native Americans. Slavery is rightly called America’s original sin, but so too was the United States’ genocidal seizure of land from its original inhabitants. Various legal forms of disenfranchisement have applied to them. It wasn’t until 1962 that all Native Americans were allowed to vote, and even then they faced—and still face—electoral obstacles. These are not the only examples of American oppression; we should include in vote reparations others who have suffered similar disenfranchisement.
Basically, the idea that Blacks, and perhaps other people who have suffered from past and present discrimination should get two votes to make up for past wrongs.
There is a lot to object to in this idea, not least of which is the old maxim that two wrongs do not make a right. You cannot remedy injustice against one group by practicing injustice against the other. I will have more to say about that in a moment, but first, I think it is worth observing that the whole idea of vote reparations is based on a false premise, the idea that the constitution and particularly the electoral college were designed to perpetuate slavery. Logically, if the premise is false, the conclusion must also be false.
Contrary to what the architects of the 1619 Project contend, the constitution was not designed to perpetuate slavery. The framers of the constitution wanted to create a republican government that would preserve liberty for themselves and their descendants. The founding fathers drew from many sources, both ancient and modern for inspiration, including the greatest political philosophers throughout history, particularly Aristotle, Polybius, John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Montesquieu. These thinkers generally believed that the best way to preserve liberty was to create a mixed government, that is, a government that included elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, all in balance with a separation of powers. The framers of the constitution wanted a system that was somewhat democratic, but not too democratic, so they included undemocratic features, like the Electoral College into the constitution. The founding fathers did not want the president to be elected by the people, the people might not know the candidates very well. They wanted the president to be elected by representatives of the people, selected by the state legislatures. None of this had anything to do with slavery. In fact, the Constitution, and especially the Declaration of Independence, with its declaration that all men are created equal had rather a corrosive effect on the institution of slavery.
Getting back to the subject of vote reparations, then. Aside from the obvious injustice of awarding differing numbers of votes based on race and color, the problem I have with this sort of restorative justice is that I wonder when does it all end. At what point are the previously oppressed and the previous oppressors even? If we embark on a policy of privileging the descendants of the oppressed at the expense of the descendants of the oppressors? If Blacks get reparations paid by Whites today, do Whites have a claim on reparations a hundred years from now based on the oppression their ancestors endured at the hands of privileged Blacks?
It may seem ludicrous to consider Whites being oppressed by Blacks today, but how do people like Mr. Hasbrouck think Whites are going to react when they see their Black neighbors getting two votes? Probably the same way they think about any government policy that shows preference to Blacks at the expense of Whites. Few Whites are going to simply shrug their shoulders and say, well they deserve the extra votes because our grandfathers oppressed their grandfathers. The Whites are inevitably going to feel discriminated against, with some justification. Dismissing their just grievances as simply as more racism will only make them angrier.
So, where does it end? Do we simply continue on an endless cycle of discrimination, flipping back and forth between the races, or do we put an end to discrimination and treat everyone as equal? Do we continually revisit the injustices of the past to foster an endless sense of grievance or do we move forward into a brighter future? Vote Reparations would only take us back to an endless pattern of racism today, racism tomorrow, and racism forever. I think it is better to aim for a future of liberty and equality.