Return of ‘Three-Fifths’ of a Person

Exclusive: Stung by back-to-back defeats to Barack Obama, the Republican Party is undertaking a national strategy to devalue the votes of blacks and other minorities, a partial revival of the infamous clause in the U.S. Constitution rating African-American slaves as “Three-Fifths” of a person, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

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.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

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.”

Yet, rather than undertake the painful internal process of returning the Republican Party to its traditions of racial tolerance, the GOP appears to have opted for a strategy that would “double-down” on its rural white “base” by over-weighting those votes and undervaluing the votes of minorities and city-dwellers.

Confederate Statues

While this scheme is playing out in several GOP-controlled states, the movement is advancing fastest in Richmond, a city proud of its boulevard of giant statues honoring Confederate “heroes.” Inside the Virginia Statehouse, a large statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee stands in the center of the old House of Representatives as if he has just arrived to give instructions to the chamber.

But this Republican assault on “one person, one vote” is not about the past but the present and the future. The real-life effect of Virginia’s new “Three-Fifths (or less)” clause is demonstrated by the fact that if the proposed system were in effect last November, Obama would have won the state but received only four of the state’s 13 electoral votes.

State Sen. Donald A. McEachin, a Democrat, denounced the Republican bill as “absolutely a partisan bill aimed at defying the will of the voters, giving Republican presidential candidates most of Virginia’s electoral votes, regardless of who carries the state.”

Across the country, Republican politicians also have been trying to suppress the minority vote through voter ID laws that tend to disenfranchise urban dwellers and the poor and by reducing voting times with the result of creating long lines at city precincts and forcing many voters to stand in lines for hours.

The bitter irony of today’s Republican Party leading the fight to devalue the concept of equal citizenship was that the original Republican Party led the fight to grant full citizenship to African-Americans in the 1860s. The GOP, however, has since evolved via Nixon’s Southern Strategy into a national political organization determined to minimize, if not neutralize, the influence of blacks and other minorities.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

22 comments for “Return of ‘Three-Fifths’ of a Person

    January 28, 2013 at 07:09

    There is already a series of US Supreme Court decisions, winding up with Reynolds vs Sims, (1964) which settled this question before —
    To quote the Chief Justice —

    “Legislators represent people not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, nor farms, or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system. . .

    Warren continued,

    . . . the weight of a citizens vote cannot be made to depend on where he lives. . . A citizen, a qualified voter, is no more nor no less so because he lives in the city or on the farm . . . the Equal Protection Clause demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as all races…”

    Every state had to immediately reform its legislative districts before the next election year…

    Plain speaking & right on the mark!!

  2. Betty Chan
    January 28, 2013 at 02:27

    The so-called “Conservative Republicans” are already treating children under 18 years of age as 3/5 of a person. Shame! Shame! Those ReThuglicans do not even blink when 20 school children are killed in Newtown, CT. To them, children’s murders are necessary collateral damage for the right of everyone to bear arms. These ReThuglicans are hypocrites, and naming anyone as 3/5 of a person has been rescinded by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U. S. Constitution. We should be calling for one person = one vote. Gerrymandering stinks. Personally, I think that popular vote should be the measure of a presidential election. The Electoral College should not be Gerrymandered; it should be retired to the National Attic, along with the 3/5 slave rubbish.
    Yours truly,
    Betty Chan

  3. Harlowe Thrombey
    January 27, 2013 at 19:06
  4. GypsyDavey
    January 27, 2013 at 06:37

    I’m sure it’s not beyond the wit of the President to get a law passed limiting voting districts to a maximum and minimum number of voters, which would rebalance the system.

  5. jeffg
    January 27, 2013 at 02:36

    Unfortunately, blacks have already had their votes reduced to less than three fifths of a person, which makes it amazing that there are not riots in the streets. Do the math especially as it pertains to the rust belt swing states,,the black vote is worth two fifths, at best. Unless you happen to live in one of these sainted white urban communities..The democracy is in GREAT danger at this point, of being taken over permanently by the thuggery and dirty tricks of the republican party.

    January 26, 2013 at 17:36

    That article is complete and utter nonsense. Why is Parry intent on painting the GOP as a group of racists? This is obviously an attempt to paint Obama and the Democrats as some noble, decent people deserving of our unmitigated support. WRONG! Here’s a reality check:

    • Revo
      January 26, 2013 at 19:15

      Both, Democrats and Republicans, are the exclusive property of millionares and billionaires working for the benefit of their masters. But comparing the two, Democrats seem to be “noble, decent people deserving of our unmitigated support.

    • jeffg
      January 27, 2013 at 02:37

      Barbara, you are an idiot. This is math, and it is absolutely true.

  7. Kevin Schmidt
    January 26, 2013 at 16:38

    Obviously the law would be completely unconstitutional. If passed, it would create instant protests and race riots throughout the state.

    This stunt is just more made up studio wrestling politics, designed to divert your attention from the real issues.

    • Kevin Schmidt
      January 26, 2013 at 16:41

      The real issue is the fact that both the Democrats and the Republicans have merged into the Democratic-Republican Party, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Global Fascist Elite, Ltd., which is a Bilderberg Production.

      • Mamerto Bergero
        January 26, 2013 at 18:19

        When we refer to Democrats or Republicans, we are really talking of political representatives and senators. This is absolutely wrong, in my opinion, because it identifies politicians as a party when, in fact, all citizens are really members of each party. Giving representatives and senators this high level does not enrich our perceptions as to what really the people are following. Currently, our rhetoric tends to speak only of the Baboons in the Congress, thus, denying history a richer view and elaboration of the main actors.
        By the way, Baboons is a collective noun for Representatives; very apt, as that is the way republicans act in the chambers and worse, give it to the represented a cloak of opaqueness. He who defines, controls the semantics.

      • Gail M Feldman
        January 27, 2013 at 22:52

        this is so patently and obviously untrue as to be mindboggling. it’s not eve humorous and worse, it encourages citizens NOT to try to right wrongs, thinking, oh well, they’re all alike and nothing can change, so why try? very dangerous indeed.


    • gregorylkruse
      January 26, 2013 at 17:01

      I don’t know. This seems pretty real to me.

    • CBid
      January 26, 2013 at 17:44

      Race riots?

      Extremely doubtful. Have you ever been to Virginia?

      • CBid
        January 26, 2013 at 17:57

        And this “the Bilderbergers are responsible” is complete garbage too. As much as some would like to indulge in the ridiculous notions you’re spouting, it’s nothing more than a very simplistic way to try to explain & understand things that are a bit too complex for you. Bilderbergers… LOL!

  8. DorothyPerkins
    January 26, 2013 at 16:32

    What of Native Americans? How will they be counted? As 1 and 1/5th vote? (Person)…they were here and therefore citizens of this country before Europeans invaded.
    This whole scenario is idiotic. And it just proves that the GOP doesn’t give a hoot about anyone but OLD WHITE MALES with lots of money! They think it’s their God-given right to rule everyone else. They need a serious wake-up call.

  9. D. Duran
    January 26, 2013 at 16:00

    This is an informative article about the history of the problem, but what we really need are investigative articles about what can be done about it going forward. Is there something in the Voting Rights Act that Eric Holder can use, i.e., those states would be in violation by reducing the value of urban votes to less than “one person, one vote?” Are there some precedents that have been successful in court? Or do a lot of advocacy groups need to band together and take those states to court to set a new precedent?

    I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are outraged by this and would be willing to make phone calls, march, donate, or whatever it takes to stop this, but we need to know where to go and whom to support.

    • jeffg
      January 27, 2013 at 02:39

      they can file suit. Gerrymandering is illegal when it is done intentionally, and when it results in discrimination. This is true on both counts, already. We keep talking about this like it MIGHT happen. but the truth is the House majority is a PHONY majority, and is already a tyranny of a minority over the real majority. Wake up and smell the coffee.

  10. Nanton James
    January 26, 2013 at 15:17

    I am not sure that manipulating the electoral process is necessarily the answer. In 2010 the party regained control of the house under the chairmanship of Michael Steele a big victory. Then quickly voted him out as head of the RNC. The party did something right then went on to change the formula. Under Preibus the party got walloped at the polls , mostly for lack of his foresight with regard to the changing voter demographic, the party rewarded him by reelecting him to head the RNC. I do not get it at all. Somethings wrong with the party, and should be corrected if it must remain relevant in this country’s politics.

  11. Timothy Gilmore
    January 26, 2013 at 13:22

    What may one expect from the Neo-Nazis controlling Congress, House and Senate, but to embrace and return to the Third Reich’s principles and activities? There are any number of photos of Republicanazi politicians dressed as SS officers, and in robes and hoods of white. They’re going to change? Not bloody likely.

  12. John Puma
    January 26, 2013 at 13:13

    There is a constant in the political universe: the radical reich becomes more abusive and dangerous every day.

    This is NOT a conclusion made only after watching the process described above. It has been obvious for literally decades.

    So, the question is, who among Democratic Party “leadership” is responsible the nationwide, total, 2010-midterm disaster. Was it only revealed to them, afterward, that redistricting follows a census year and is controlled by state legislatures?

  13. Randy Fritz
    January 26, 2013 at 12:31

    Let us also not forget the forgotten (sorry) Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, to wit:

    Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,* and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State. (Emphasis added.)

    This seems even more germane to me than the old 3/5 Compromise.

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