Friday, November 11, 2016

Electoral College Do Your Job: Make Clinton President


You’re heard the news stories over the past two days that the electors in the Electoral College could still swing this election back to Hillary Clinton when they meet across the country to cast the ballots for their states on December 19. You’ve heard there is a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures encouraging just that.
Constitutionally they have the power to do that, and if they care about democracy and the will of the people, that is the right answer.

First,  I did not support or vote for Hillary Clinton.

Having said that, I believe that because Hillary Clinton did win a majority of the popular vote, she should be our next President.

That would be the case if the President were selected directly by the people. Majority rule by the people through elections is central to almost everyone’s conception of what a modern representative government is, and in democracies around the world, the people select their leaders that way.

Not so, currently, in the United States. Instead, the President is selected by the Electoral College.

That should not happen in this day and age. The Electoral College model of electing a leader is an outdated, anti-democratic institution.

In 1787, when those who framed our government deliberated the drafting of the Constitution, the Electoral College was selected as the mechanism to pick the President for three reasons.

First, it was a by-product of a compromise of a conflict between the big versus small states. Sparsely populated states feared they would be ignored if population were the basis of Presidential selection.

Second, southern states feared that if population were a basis to pick a President the populous northern states would outlaw slavery. It was this same fear of slavery being banned that led to the famous “three-fifths compromise” that counted slaves as only partial humans for the purposes of taxes and representation.

Third, the framers of the Constitution and our government simply feared common persons, seeing them not as competent to select a position so powerful and important as the President.

Alexander Hamilton, writing in defense of the Electoral College in Federalist Paper 68, declared of the President “the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided.” Yet, he declared that such a choice should be entrusted to a small group of people consisting of “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station. . .[and who] will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”  In his Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, James Madison quotes several of the constitutional framers who opposed directed popular selection of the President, such as Elbridge Gerry, who saw the people as “uninformed, and would be misled by a few designing people.” And in Max Farrand’s definitive The Records of the Federal Convention of 1987, Roger Sherman said that the people will “never be sufficiently informed.”  Moreover in his classic defense of the Electoral College, historian Martin Diamond saw the institution as a means to protect minority rights, guarding the country against regionalism, sectionalism.

The Electoral College was the product of slavery, racism, and distrust of the people to make their own choices. It is part of a Constitution silent on the right to vote, and to this day there remains no constitutional right for the people to vote for President. The Constitution ignores the popular vote, and delegates to the states the power to select the Presidential electors. It is merely by the grace of state laws that we are permitted to go to the polls to chose the electors who eventually chose the President.

With this election, we will now have experienced five elections where the winner of the popular vote was selected as President but where that winner was not allowed to serve as President. Hope that the Electoral College would protect small states from being ignored or that the Electoral College model would prevent only a few states or regions of the country from determining the presidency have not lived up to the founders’ intent.

As I pointed out in Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter, the Presidential election process has fallen into a predictable pattern where only a handful of swing voters in a few swing counties in a few swing states ultimately decide the election. It happened again in 2016.  This is hardly democratic, producing a system where the voices of only a few are heard and the majority are ignored or disenfranchised in many states.

The Electoral College is simply outdated, it distorts the views of the majority in the ways the constitutional framers never would have envisioned, and it operates with a view of democracy and of the people that is
inconsistent with contemporary conceptions of what a representative democracy should be–which is that the people have a constitutional right through free elections to let the majority pick their President.

So what is to be done? A 2011 Gallup poll indicated that 62% of the public supports amending the Constitution to allow for direct popular vote of the President. However, amending the Constitution is near impossible, and doing so would not change the outcome of this election in favor of the candidate who was selected by popular vote.

There is another option that can be exercised, and I urge our electors to truly consider it. Come December 19, when the electors of the different states convene across the country, they should simply exercise their legally-viable independent judgment that the constitutional framers envisioned and do what Alexander Hamilton declared is in the best “sense of the people”–and cast their vote for Hillary Clinton for President.

It need not even be all the electors who do that. Simply having some of the electors in the close swing states of Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin split evenly to reflect the popular votes in those states would be sufficient to ensure the people’s choice is made, that the people’s are heard and valued, to show the people—each one of us—should and do count.

 It would not be unprecedented for electors to cast their votes independently. Over time there have been 157 “faithless electors,” as they are called, members of the Electoral College who did not vote for their party designated candidate who won the state. The most recent was in 2004 when an anonymous elector in Minnesota voted not for John Kerry but John Edwards for President.

The Electoral College may be a broken model-yes, but it’s our existing model-yes again, so why should the electors not do what can and should be done, which is legal and ethical within the framework of the existing model, and vote for the popular candidate?


In voting independently, an elector would be doing exactly what the constitutional framers intended; the electors would be using their positions to vote in line with the sense of the people–in this case, following what the majority voted this past November, which is to make Hillary Clinton the next President of the United States. 

6 comments:

  1. You and I both know the constitution will never be amended to get rid of the electoral college.

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  2. Seriously? You are a lawyer, and this is how you understand the constitutional concept of the electoral college, and the definition of REPRESENTITIVE government? Perhaps you're merely trying to diseducate the already civically ignorant?

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  3. The Electoral College ensures that democracy works across all the states and no single state gets to rule over the others. Removing the Electoral College would make a mockery of the very concept of the United States. Without the Electoral College, the country will become Texas vs. California. The diversity across all the 50 states would not be represented.

    Democracy is not just about numbers but about giving everyone a voice and taking everyone's concerns from all geographic areas into account. The Electoral College does that. A simple majority does not.

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  4. I assume you're familiar with NPVIC which aims to do this legislatively through state legislatures.

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  5. A weakness in your argument is that both Clinton and Trump campaigns knew the "electoral rules" contract provision when they entered into the contract of a presidential campaign with the voters, and Clinton lost that contract term. Too late to change the rules of the "contract" in the 2016 election. What are your thoughts on the National Popular Vote Compact?

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  6. Great GATE blog post and really helpful Midnight thank for sharing nice neet information......

    ReplyDelete