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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/26/13

Return of "Three-Fifths' of a Person

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Cross-posted from Consortium News
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Old Confederacy, is a fitting place for the neo-Confederates who now control the Republican Party to reinstate a version of the slave-era provision counting African-Americans as "Three-Fifths" of a person for the purpose of representation.

This revival of the infamous "Three-Fifths" clause of the U.S. Constitution is part of a Republican scheme to give lesser value to the votes of African-Americans and other minorities who tend to cluster in cities than to the votes of whites in rural, more GOP-friendly areas. The goal is to give future Republican presidential candidates a thumb-on-the-scale advantage in seeking the White House, as well as to assure continued Republican control of the House of Representatives.

The scheme is a direct Republican response to the emergence of Barack Obama's coalition, which pulled together the votes of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and young urban whites (who are more comfortable with a multi-cultural future for the United States).

The racist and right-wing white males, who now dominate the Republican Party, have seemingly concluded that they can only continue to dominate American politics if they can devalue the votes of Americans who are inside this Obama coalition. If the Republican schemes prevail, those votes may well be worth even less than three-fifths of the vote of a rural white.

The initial phase of this Republican plan was to aggressively gerrymander congressional districts in states under GOP control to concentrate minority voters in a few districts while creating safe GOP majorities in most of the remaining districts. That strategy allowed Republicans to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 despite losing the nationwide popular vote by more than one million ballots.

Now, in several states that voted for President Obama, Republican-controlled state legislatures are changing how electoral votes for President will be allocated in the future, by basing them on who wins the gerrymandered congressional districts rather than the current system of giving all the electors to the statewide winner.

That way, even if a GOP presidential candidate loses a state decisively, he might still snake away with the majority of electors by carrying most of the Republican-tilted congressional districts. However, in other Republican-controlled states that voted for Mitt Romney, the GOP is leaving the old winner-take-all system in place.

Thus, the effect of this electoral chicanery is to systematically reduce the value of votes cast by African-Americans and other minorities (as well as urban white youth). In many cases, the value of their effective representation would be reduced to the three-fifths level or even less.

An Infamous Compromise

The Three-Fifths Compromise was included in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution -- counting African-American slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation in Congress. The infamous provision was rescinded by constitutional amendments that ended slavery after the Civil War, ironically pushed by the Republican Party.

Of course, today's Republican Party doesn't call its anti-democratic strategy a rebirth of the "Three-Fifths" clause. But party leaders are remarkably blunt about their intent to make the U.S. election of a President less democratic and giving a special advantage to GOP candidates.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has endorsed the strategy, calling it a plan that "a lot of states that have been consistently blue (i.e., voting Democratic in presidential elections) that are fully controlled red (by Republican state governments) ought to be looking at." Such states include elector-rich Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, important battleground states where off-year elections thrust Republicans into control of the governorships and state legislatures though they all went for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

In Virginia, state Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr., the sponsor of the bill to alter how presidential electors are apportioned, said his intent was to give smaller communities a stronger voice. "The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn't matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them," he said.

While presenting this argument in a color-neutral way, Carrico was, in effect, saying that rural whites should have their votes count more than the votes of urban African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and young whites comfortable in a racially integrated society.

In the United States, rural areas already have a disproportionate say in national affairs because the U.S. Constitution gives each state, regardless of population, two seats in the Senate and presidential electors reflect each state's total seats in Congress, i.e., the numbers in the House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition, the District of Columbia with a large African-American population is denied voting representation in Congress (although D.C. is granted three presidential electors).

However, Republicans are fearful that the nation's demographic changes, which were highlighted by President Obama's two victories, could doom the party to a long-term minority status. Or the GOP might have to dramatically change its right-wing policies, which have alienated minorities since the days of Richard Nixon and his "Southern Strategy," which used racial code words to appeal to pro-segregationist Southern whites.

The GOP also has taken strong anti-immigration stands, with its last presidential nominee Mitt Romney advocating an approach that would make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they would "self-deport."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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