One Person, One Vote?
At a time when the Electoral College is making headlines in the national political discourse, One Person, One Vote? is a timely and urgent film that will inform a raging debate and fill a tremendous gap in what we know and understand about this age-old institution.
This will be the first documentary to tell the full story of the Electoral College. Before the elections of 2000 and 2016, the Electoral College has been a largely forgotten component in our electoral process. These dramatic elections triggered a rude awakening for many who believed they had participated in the direct election of the President. Similar occurrences had not occurred since the 1800s, rendering the Electoral College vague at best in the minds and understanding of the general public. Those who oppose it call it antiquated and undemocratic, while supporters argue it is a vital institution to be cherished and maintained.
The film takes its viewers back to the beginning — the 1787 Constitutional Convention — and unearths the passionate debates and wildly differing views among the Framers of our nation as they constructed a national system of government and how we choose the President. James Madison, historically known as, “The Father of the Constitution,” identifies the elephant in the room and what becomes known as “the big divide” at the great Convention — slavery.
“I contend the states are divided into different interests not by their difference of size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which results…principally from the effect of having or not having slaves. These two causes form the great division of interests in the United States. It does not lie between the large and small states. It lies between the Northern and Southern.” — James Madison, Virginia Delegate, 1787 Constitutional Convention.
In One Person, One Vote? we hear shocking arguments over the morality of slavery performed monologue-style by leading actors including Roger Guenveur Smith and Kelly McCreary, timelessly dressed in light linen and shot in stark black-and-white. They are voices from the ether — evoking the power of the spoken word — that bring back to life the eloquent and impassioned words of the Framers.
“I can never concur to upholding domestic slavery. It is a nefarious institution. A curse of heaven on the States where it prevails. Upon what principle is it that slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote? Are they property? Why then is no other property included? The admission of slaves into the representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred of laws of humanity tears away his fellow-creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel of bondages, shall have more votes in government instituted for protection of rights of mankind, then the citizens of Pennsylvania or New Jersey who view with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.” — Gouverneur Morris, Pennsylvania Delegate, 1787 Constitutional Convention
The film seamlessly shifts from the theatrical performances to interviews with scholars, historians, and leading subject matter experts who offer commentary, context, and analysis.
“There are about 3 million people in the United States at the time of the Constitutional Convention—about 700,000 of them, or just under a third of the entire population, are slaves. The overwhelming majority of them are in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. If those states don't get political power based on the numbers of slaves they have, they will feel denied the weight they need to protect slavery and to protect their own economic interests. Northerners throughout the convention scoff at this notion. They say, ‘How can you possibly think that you should have political power for people who you claim to be property?’” — Professor Paul Finkelman, Ph.D., Legal Historian
After a long, protracted debate and the South threatening to secede unless granted protections in the Constitution that uphold the interests of slaveholding states, the Convention settles on the 3/5 Clause, also referred to as the “The Big Compromise.” This clause states that three out of every five slaves will count as population towards a state’s representation in Congress.
This provided the basis for the Electoral College and three-fifths of 700,000 enslaved African-Americans, who are legally considered property, are factored into the number of electors to be allocated to the slaveholding states.
Sterling Professor Akhil Reed Amar, Law and Political Science, Yale University articulates a searing rebuke: "A State should never get more seats in either the House of Representatives or the Electoral College because it has more slaves. It should never be rewarded for bad behavior. The system created horrible incentives to kidnap free blacks in horrible slave wars, in which a lot of people are going to die--snatch them up, kidnap people, put them in a ship and a third of them are going to die in a hellish middle passage and be thrown overboard as food for sharks, bring them to the States, put them on auction blocks--separate families--if a State did all of that then it would have more slaves than they had before, and would have MORE seats in the House of Representatives and MORE seats in the Electoral College--my god that is a horrible system of incentives.”
Born from this legacy what role did the Electoral College play and continue to play in our elections? Is there still a place for this institution or is it time for a popular voting process for choosing the President of the United States?
One Person One Vote? will delve into these questions as we examine subsequent key moments in Electoral College history. The electoral win of Thomas Jefferson (1800), the electoral win of John Quincy Adams (1824), the controversial Hayes vs. Tilden election (1876), Benjamin Harrison’s victory (1888), Bush vs. Gore (2000), and Trump vs. Clinton (2016).
Through these explorations, the math and machinations governing the Electoral College are examined by statisticians and analysts such as Nate Silver and Nathaniel Rakich of 538 Blog. Robust maps and motion infographics provide a visual aid for the changing United States map as the country expanded and electoral math changed and evolved.
The film follows real-world advocates, activists, and commentators on various sides of the debate whose stories and arguments draw a narrative thread stretching from the Electoral College’s long past to the present and possibilities for the future.