Bring Back The Electoral College -- For Real

Two important events will occur this November: The United States will elect its 45th president and I will reach the normal retirement age for Social Security. There is, I respectfully suggest, a connection between these two events. Never in my (now considerable) lifetime has the American electorate been as dissatisfied as it is today with the major parties' apparent presidential nominees. Indeed, there is an argument that never in American history has the electorate been this unhappy with the choices it confronts.

The conventional wisdom is that an independent candidate must run to provide an alternative to the major parties' candidates. I instead suggest another course: Bring back the Electoral College as the active chooser of the 45th president. We should assemble and mount in every state where it is feasible bi-partisan slates of uncommitted electors who will actively deliberate and choose the next chief executive.

The term "Electoral College" does not appear in the Constitution. The Constitution provides that "Electors shall meet in their respective states" and forward to Washington ("the seat of the government") their "ballots" for President and Vice-President.

Much sophisticated opinion views the Electoral College as an unwarranted anachronism. This year, they are wrong: This is the presidential election in which the electors should take seriously their obligation to pick the President of the United States.

The Electoral College has never met as a collective body. As a constitutional matter, the electors of each state cast their votes in their respective state capitals to be sent to Washington. However, modern communications could make the electors a truly deliberative body. Electors from different states could meet and debate openly the merits of different presidential candidates. Some of us had hoped that such debate would occur at the national conventions this summer.

The Constitution provides us with another opportunity for such a deliberative process by electing uncommitted electors who could then meet and select the 45th president. As part of this process, electors could use social media to communicate among themselves and with their constituents. Thus the old and new would combine to elect the 45th president.

I would urge that these slates of independent electors be bi-partisan and that the members of such slates should pledge that none would accept any appointment or other largesse from the new president. That would help ensure that these electors would be genuinely disinterested. However, they would and should bargain among themselves and with potential candidates over personnel and policy.

Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump will try to win over enough of the independent electors to prevail in the Electoral College. Fair enough. But these electors would be free to recruit and vote for anyone they choose.

My personal hope would be that the independent electors would consider bi-partisan alternatives as a cure for the excessive partisanship which plagues Washington today. Biden-Romney?

It is possible that an Electoral College with a significant bloc of independent electors would fail to elect a president as no candidate would obtain a majority. In that case, under the Constitution, the selection of the 45th president would devolve upon the House of Representatives while the next Vice-President would be chosen by the Senate. This process would lead to further bargaining and deliberation.

Twice in American history the House of Representatives picked the president: Thomas Jefferson in 1800, John Quincy Adams in 1824. Not bad precedents.