You probably don’t know this about U.S. elections | HKS Professor Alex Keyssar


[Announcer] Harvard
Kennedy School presents three things you didn’t
know about U.S. elections. Number one. There is no right to vote
in the U.S. Constitution. [Keyssar] It was not in
the original Constitution. It was not in the Bill of Rights. This surprises most people. The states had already
developed franchise requirements of their own and thinking in Philadelphia was that if they chose
any particular standard it might well antagonize
people from some states. So, in effect they punted,
didn’t say anything and left it to the states. There have been attempts
to add a right to vote to the constitution and
they have all failed and never come close. [Announcer] Number two. Historically, voter suppression
was not just a southern problem. [Keyssar] Most of us are quite
aware that in the late 19th and early 20th century, there
were massive voter suppression and disenfranchisement
efforts in the south that were aimed at African Americans. What is less well known, is
that there was an analogous movement, less severe, but
none the less important, in the northern states
to keep immigrant workers from voting. There were literacy requirements to vote in many northern states,
including Massachusetts. There was an English
language literacy requirement that was passed in New York in 1921 and it remained on the
books until the late 1960s. In Minnesota there were
laws that were passed that prevented people who
work in the timber industry, these people were seen as itinerant, and they were not allowed to vote. Or one of my favorite examples, was the suppression of Jewish
voters in New York City early in the 20th century
for several years. When New York had an annual
registration requirement, you had to register every
year in order to vote. And in one year to limit
the voting strength of New York’s Jews and
particularly New York’s Jewish socialists, the only registration days were on the Jewish high
holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. [Announcer] Number three. In the late 1960s, the
U.S. almost abandoned the Electoral College, but then it didn’t. [Keyssar] It has in recent years
been a great deal of attention focused on the Electoral College and with good reason. Because we have had two presidents
within the last 20 years have been elected, who did
not win the popular vote. What people don’t know
is that we got very close to eliminating the Electoral College and replacing it with
a National popular vote in 1969 and 70. The impetus for it was coming from several different directions. The first was that from the late 1940s through out the 50s, there were movements to reform and nobody really thought that it was a very good
institution or a very wise one. A second, was the Supreme
Court decisions on districting issues in the early 1960s
would proclaim loudly and clearly and unmistakably
that the fundamental democratic principle
was one person one vote. And it was very hard to
embrace that principle without thinking that
perhaps it should apply to presidential elections as well. In September of 1969, the
House of Representatives voted by, I think it was, 82 percent to amend the constitution to get rid of the Electoral College and have a National popular vote. It was killed by a filibuster,
led by souther senators. But there was a real democratic surge. A surge of a democratic
ethos in the United States in the 1960s and it almost
carried are way forward into getting rid of the Electoral College. [Announcer] Thank you, Professor Keyssar. If you liked this video,
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Comments

  1. Given the 'inventing America' book listed above, by Prof. Keyssar, a video on the history of voting machines seems like a good follow up on this. Were they a reform–or only presented as such, or were they a way to control the process and its outcome?

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