Vote Charlie!

Electoral College: do your job, then disband

Posted at age 28.

This week I’ve have done much less studying for the GRE than I hoped given I am taking the test in four days. Tuesday I thought I would tune out the election coverage till later in the night when I hoped to see confirmed all the media’s predictions Hillary Clinton would be elected. But none of that went according to plan.

The Election

I was looking for The New York Times's chart of the prediction change throughout election night, but first found their original prediction page, which still listed Clinton as having an 85 percent chance of winning days after the election.

I was looking for The New York Times's chart of the prediction change throughout election night, but first found their original prediction page, which still listed Clinton as having an 85 percent chance of winning days after the election.

Soon after results started being reported around 6 p.m. San Francisco time, Donald Trump had the lead, but I knew polls were yet open in bigger Democratic stronghold states. I started to worry while everyone still seemed confident Clinton would regain ground.

For most of the night I compulsively monitored several sites and watched various networks' coverage as well as the Young Turks.

For most of the night I compulsively monitored several sites and watched various networks' coverage as well as the Young Turks.

By 7 p.m. Pacific Time, things were not looking good for Clinton.

By 7 p.m. Pacific Time, things were not looking good for Clinton.

As the night wore on, The New York Times and others switched to predicting a Trump victory and by bigger and bigger margins. Despite having texted friends saying we probably elected Trump, I convinced myself to hold out hope given FiveThirtyEight’s anomalously high prediction Clinton would still win. We all know how that turned out.

The New York Times's live prediction chart was pretty comical, as Clinton's chances swiftly fell from the high 80s to zero. I didn't take a screenshot until Friday, apparently when they finally cut the chart off.

The New York Times's live prediction chart was pretty comical, as Clinton's chances swiftly fell from the high 80s to zero. I didn't take a screenshot until Friday, apparently when they finally cut the chart off.

Wednesday I got almost no studying done but instead compulsively read news articles and watched The Young Turks coverage on YouTube. It became clear Clinton won the popular vote, though at one point Thursday CNN projected Trump had won it and then removed that projection within some hours.

The Electoral College

I knew it was still theoretically possible the Electoral College could subvert the typical process and decline to officially elect Trump. Of course this “would never” happen, but that notion seems meaningless now that we have elected someone plagued by dozens to hundreds of controversies that individually would have disqualified anyone else from being elected. As Trump would say, we should take full advantage of the laws even if it is immoral. But in this case, it would be immoral to select the person who received fewer votes.

Thursday morning I found a petition on Change.org called “Electoral College: Make Hillary Clinton President on December 19”. It was 17 hours old but had more than 100 thousand signatures and was growing rapidly. It has since surpassed 3 million signatures just a day later and thereby became the site’s most signed petition of all time.

Within just two days, the petition to the Electoral College was signed more times than any petition in the site's history.

Within just two days, the petition to the Electoral College was signed more times than any petition in the site's history.

The petition itself could have been written better, but the point and sentiment were roughly what I would have written, and thus I signed and shared. The petition’s text follows.

I have been against the Electoral College for years, so it might seem contradictory I now advocate for it to be used to change the result of an election. But were the Electoral College already abolished in favor of a popular vote, I would of course not be agonizing over Trump having been elected, because he didn’t win the popular vote. (Though he almost did, which is… something.) In this case, I hope the Electoral College serves its intended purpose of protecting the country from the ignorance of the masses, but then I want to see it eliminated once and for all. This position is similar to how I support Wolf PAC as a “super PAC to end all super PACs”.

Snopes explains:

The Founding Fathers discussed at length whether presidential elections should be based entirely on the will of the people, or whether Congress (or some other small body of wise and informed men) should choose the President. They concluded that direct democracy was potentially dangerous, because a charismatic tyrant could manipulate the will of the people.

I’ve been watching intently for mainstream media’s take on the Change.org petition. I’ve seen many articles mentioning the Electoral College, with most not exploring whether it is serving us well or not, but with some advocating to abolish it. With the petition’s rising popularity, I figured it must at least be mentioned eventually.

The first mentions were in entertainment type publications like PEOPLE, which posted an article mentioning “500000 People” in the headline, which was later updated to “Over 2 Million People”. More and more publications mentioned it, and then finally Friday a couple big ones did.

Vox

Vox published No, the Electoral College won’t make Clinton president instead of Trump. I wasn’t liking the article after only a few paragraphs. It said, “Weirdly enough, this actually seems to be technically possible”, as if how the world’s supposedly greatest democracy doesn’t have election laws that anyone can look up and verify, as if everyone doesn’t already know how our elections work, especially journalists.

The article did have some points I didn’t know, but overall I thought the arguments were weak:

  1. Electors are trusted Republicans.
  2. Many electors would need to defect.
  3. Electors defecting but not voting for Clinton would give the House the choice.
  4. States could attempt to override votes of any defectors.
  5. Clinton already conceded.
  6. Society thinks the electors would never defect, so they shouldn’t.

Much of the Republican Party has been against Trump from the beginning and especially around a month ago after it was revealed he almost certainly is a sexual predator just as he has bragged he is over the years. It therefore doesn’t seem that far fetched somewhere around 15 percent of the Republican electors might defect. They would need to plan whether to vote for Clinton, who is basically a Republican in many ways, especially compared to Bernie Sanders, or whether to vote for someone else, throwing the election to the House of Representatives. Of course then the Republicans would control the choice, but presumably the electors would have consulted Congress to ensure a name was put forth the majority agreed was better than Trump. If I am reading the Twelfth Amendment correctly, it seems the House would get to choose from the top three names, which could include anyone the defecting electors agreed upon. As far as the states replacing any faithless electors and submitting a new vote, Congress would get to decide which vote to use, and presumably if they had the opportunity to choose the results that would allow them to elect a more palatable candidate than Trump, they would take it.

Clinton’s concession is entirely understandable. If she immediately starting appealing to the Electoral College publicly, she would seem like a sore loser and the public might be less likely to support her even if she ultimately is chosen. Her campaign might well be building consensus privately for all we know.

Regarding the last point: We shouldn’t have an Electoral College at all if you’re going to argue it would be wrong to use it. We have always had it, ostensibly to protect the masses from their own ignorance, so arguing the Electoral College shouldn’t defy expectations now that the masses truly are ignorant about how elections work makes no sense.

The Atlantic

I was hoping for something more substantive from The Atlantic, which published No, Electors in States Trump Won Should Not Vote for Clinton. It explained an interesting dynamic involving third parties moving throughout the states, and it explained some of the history of the Electoral College and its roots in slavery and how the founders distrusted the people to wisely choose a leader.

But in response to the notion of faithless electors swinging the 2016 election, Garrett Epps writes:

But imagining the electors could, or “should,” break with constitutional duty in order to reverse the results of the election profoundly misunderstands even the concept of democracy. That’s true even though Clinton (whom I supported) “won” the popular vote. That’s a meaningless victory.

He goes on to postulate, were the Electoral College abolished, candidates would campaign in more populous areas. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be an argument about flipping the election or for keeping the Electoral College, but Epps then expresses disapproval of the institution itself.

The electoral college is a terrible device. But it is the rule each candidate ran on; railing against it now—and even offering money to electors to violate their promises—is not just futile. It also does damage to democracy—and what’s left of our democracy can’t stand any further shocks.

So basically his argument seems to be the electors should follow expectations because democracy relies on following the rules. That seems to be a pretty weak argument if the electors truly feel the leading candidate would be extremely dangerous to put into power.

Faithless electors

I was hoping with all the outcry some electors might publicly throw their support, though I would also understand doing so would be politically dangerous unless they knew there would be enough joining them that a Trump presidency wouldn’t materialize and his enemy list would thus be moot.

The only news of specific electors has so far not been encouraging. The Seattle Times reported two electors might not vote for Clinton, meaning she would need even more Trump defectors. I read about an elector who claimed he would consider not voting for Trump a month or two ago, and then I read yesterday he backtracked and said he would stick with the party’s pick, but I can’t find the articles now.

Apparently a Washington Democratic elector is planning to contact Republican electors in other states to ask them to consider “voting their conscience.” This seems like the most promising news yet.

According to King 5:

Chiafalo says the Electoral College was designed to stop an unfit president-elect from taking office, and he plans to launch a social media campaign to spread the word to Republican electors in states that voted for Trump.


However, Washington state could have at least one more faithless elector this year. Democratic elector Robert Satiacum told KING 5 he cannot bring himself to vote for Clinton.

Since Hillary Clinton carried Washington State, the 12 Democratic electors will head to Olympia next month.

Bret Chiafalo says he remains undecided as to whether he will vote for Clinton, or write-in someone else.

“Depending on how our movement goes, there may be a situation where I would vote for a more moderate Republican like Mitt Romney to encourage the Republican electors to do the same to allow the presidential vote to go to the Congress to be decided, and put it on them, whether they want a demagogue like Donald Trump or a more reasonable Republican, who I often disagree with, like Mitt Romney,” said Chiafalo. “So, I’m really not sure what I’m going to do, but I take the decision very seriously.”

Now, Friday night, the petition has been signed by 3,274,919 people. That’s 2.7 percent of the total votes cast for Trump or Clinton. I hope this at least proves to any nervous electors the public is indeed on board with the Electoral College doing its job.

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