Ilhan Omar 'Worried About Democratic Backsliding,' Suggests Removing 'Racist' Electoral College

Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has said that she and many others are worried about "democratic backsliding" in the nation. She added that the nation needs to "remove other relics from our racist history, like the Electoral College and the Senate filibuster" in order to preserve democracy.

Omar made these comments in the opening minutes of a Thursday evening virtual town hall where she addressed constituents through a Facebook and Twitter livestream.

At the town hall's outset, she mentioned the House's upcoming votes on the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which addresses racial bias in policing, and the For the People Act, a voting access reform bill also known as HR 1.

"In addition to passing HR 1, we also need to remove other relics from our racist history, like the Electoral College and the Senate filibuster," Omar said, "and we continue to advocate for that."

Omar said that the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol made the need for "fundamental reforms to our democracy" especially clear. During the insurrection, supporters of former President Donald Trump rioted to try to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory.

"Many of us are worried about the risk of democratic backsliding," Omar said, "and it's going to be really essential for us to try to do everything that we can to make sure that our democracy is sustainable and it can withstand the difficult and challenging times that we are living through."

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the attitudes of Americans toward the Electoral College system.

Electoral College Opinion - Statista
Statista

The Electoral College was adopted in 1787 as a concession to slave-owning southern states. At the time, slaves were considered three-fifths of a white person. Because southern states had large populations of enslaved Black people, the states generally ended up with large numbers of electoral votes. As a result, southern states became more influential in presidential elections than northern states with smaller Black populations.

Even though slavery has since been abolished, critics say that the Electoral College continues to dilute the power of Black voters. Large concentrations of Black voters in the American South often prefer Democratic presidential candidates, but they're outnumbered by white southern voters who statistically prefer Republicans.

Since most states have a "winner takes all" system where the winner of the popular vote receives all of a state's electoral votes, Black southern votes for liberal candidates are effectively rendered void by white people who vote in greater numbers, according to Wilfred Codrington III, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School who has written about the Electoral College's racial underpinnings.

In the modern era, the Electoral College awarded the presidency to two Republicans who lost the national popular vote: George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. In 2012, Trump called the Electoral College "a disaster for democracy." In 2019, he said it's "far better for the U.S.A."

Critics of the Electoral College also say that it encourages presidential campaigns to focus on a few states that don't represent the country at large. As a result, two-thirds of Americans live in states where presidential candidates don't campaign, according to FairVote.org, a nonpartisan electoral reform organization.

The filibuster, on the other hand, was effectively created in 1805. At that time, Vice President Aaron Burr revised the Senate rule book and accidentally got rid of a rule allowing a simple majority to cut off debate to force a vote on a bill, according to political scientist Sarah A. Binder.

The filibuster was reformed in 1917. That reform created the modern-day rule requiring two-thirds of the Senate to end debate on a bill and move it to a vote. By the 1920s, southern segregationist politicians began using the filibuster to block all civil rights legislation for Black equality, according to political writer David Litt.

"Today, the filibuster continues to hold back progress on civil rights," Litt wrote in a 2020 Atlantic article. Litt argues the filibuster gives rural white states with smaller populations disproportionate power over legislation proposed by senators from larger and more diverse states.

Supporters of the filibuster, however, say that it allows the minority party in the Senate additional power to shape legislation. Senators including Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have voiced their opposition to removing the filibuster.

Newsweek contacted Omar for comment.

Ihan Omar racist electoral college Senate filibuster
Democratic Representative Ihan Omar of Minnesota has said that she and many others are worried about "democratic backsliding" and added that the nation needs to "remove other relics from our racist history like the Electoral College and the senate filibuster." In this July 7, 2020 photo, Omar speaks during a press conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. Brandon Bell/Dr Alistair McInnes, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University,

Update 2/26/21: This article was updated to include an infographic.