Could the Electoral College act to vote for Hillary Clinton, who won and continues to expand a lead in the popular vote, and do what it is charged to do, act as a “filter” of the process? More than 3.8 million people have signed a Change.org petition calling on the College to to look to the popular vote, and vote for Mrs. Clinton rather than Donald J. Trump. Be careful what you wish for, Democrats. If the College ousts Trump, you probably still do not get your desired outcome.
Many Americans, because our schools don’t “do” civics, do not know that they do not vote for their president, or vice president. The electors of the Electoral College do. That is the magic “270” number that each candidate tries to secure. After the popular election in November, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.
(That’s the actual language.)
It is a system as old as the government of this nation which was built. Originally, the framers of the Constitution considered having the Congress pick the president. They were fearful of “intrigue” if the office was selected by a small group of insiders.
The College, though, came into being because of many concerns at the meetings of 1787 that formed the framework of American government. Some of those designing the government just didn’t like the parliamentary processes of England. Others did not trust that the common man could not be easily manipulated into making bad choices. Small states were worried that states with large populations would have extra sway. James Wilson and James Madison pushed for solely for the popular election system that we use now, but ultimately slavery in the South was a deciding factor of putting the system of using electors into being :
There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.
Like the automatic “stops” of Wall Street, the Electoral Collage acts as a circuit-breaker on our political system to prevent an angry or ill-informed public-at-large from choosing a candidate unfit to serve, or a handful of billionaires from rigging the system.
Donald J. Trump won the Electoral College count, but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a narrow margin on election night. With seven million uncounted ballots, her lead continues to grow. She may beat Trump by 2 points, as the remainder of the votes are coming into traditionally “blue” states like California, New York, Washington, and Oregon, by the time that electors go to vote.
Presidential electors are selected by each party, usually members of the party apparatus. If the party wins the state in 48 states and the District of Columbia, the prevailing party sends its electors to the meeting. In the case of Maine and Nebraska, the electors are assigned proportionate to the vote.
The system left it largely up to the conscience of the electors to follow the will of the popular vote in their state until the Cold War era. In 1952, the Supreme Court, in Ray v. Blair (343 US 214), allowed political parties in the states to require formal pledges from their electors. If they go against their party, they can face small fines or misdemeanor charges for doing so.
When an Elector does not vote as their party desires, they are called “faithless electors.” Of the 157 cases of electors breaking ranks with their party and candidate, 82 cases of electors voting their conscience have occurred, some en masse.
In 1872 Democrat Horace Greely died between the November election and the Electoral College meeting. 63 of the 66 refused to vote for a dead man. 17 abstained. 43 Electors split votes between three other Democratic candidates;
In 1836, Martin Van Buren came out from Andrew Jackson’s VP shadow to become President, but his VP, Democrat Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, found that 23 Virginia electors refused to support him when the allegation was circulated that lived with an African-American woman. The vote went to the Senate, which voted for him anyway.
In Andrew Jackson’s election of 1832, 30 electors from Pennsylvania refused to support the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Martin Van Buren, voting instead for William Wilkins. The Whig party had muddied up the water, running four different vice presidential candidates in different parts of the country to try to undermine Van Buren, whom they saw as a Jackson stooge and a party hack.
Most of the past instances of faithless electors have been isolated cases of conscience. Most outbreaks came as the Whig party came into being and there was turmoil.
In modern history, there has never been an en masse revolt such as the one that the Change.org petition envisions. This includes the contentious 2000 contest when Democrat Al Gore conceded to Republican George W. Bush after narrowly losing the electoral votes, but winning in the popular vote by a razor-thin margin.
We are in uncharted political waters. Never has there been a wealthy neophyte who emerged as the standard-bearer from a badly fractured party, running on a platform of open xenophobia, fear, hate, misogyny, and racism.
Never has there been a candidate who:
Emerged on the political stage because they challenged the legitimacy of the first African-American president over the color of his skin;
Openly embraced the extremist views of the far-right American fascist movement, currently branded as the Alt-Right;
Been challenged by so many of the top members of the party, actively calling their standard-bearer a “clear and present danger” to national security, the economy, and the Constitution;
Had so few endorsements from traditional party-leaning publications, citing a lack of fitness to serve.
Trump won largely on the fears of the shrinking white majority, and the general anger in both parties, with entirely different answers to the problem of broken government. The economy is good, but white America’s middle class has shrunk, and a decline in crop prices have put rural America under financial stress as well, especially in the Midwest and South.
The Electoral College was meant to stand as a bulwark against the poor choices of the popular electorate. The Republican Party is a fractured mess, with Neoconservatives and Tea Party/Freedom Caucus members struggling for control. Could any of them be moved by millions of people signing a petition to ask them to vote for the total popular vote winner, Mrs. Clinton, rather than Mr. Trump?
It only takes a few electors to hang up the college, at this point. This is where a recent HuffPost article on flipping the college has a fatal flaw. The likelihood of a mass revolt of electors is probably lower than winning a Powerball Lottery mega-jackpot.
Electors are party regulars, usually highly dogmatic. One of Trump’s big appeals, in the final days, was the Right’s fear of a tilting of the Supreme Court to a more liberal footing. Most of them see Mrs. Clinton as Satan in a pants suit. The GOP has been “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) hunting moderates both in office and in the party apparatus for nearly 35 years. These are generally not people sympathetic to progressive interests.
If a few did vote their conscience, say, vote for Pence for president, though, they could throw the election into the House of Representatives. There is precedent for that. Paul Ryan would have no trouble arranging for Donald Trump’s demise, and there would probably be broad support to make Pence the president. Not what Hillary fans are looking for, but, even as draconian as Pence has been, he is far more stable and experienced than the man at the top of his ticket.
This is where, though, Democrats should be careful what they wish for: Trump has said that he will not wipe many of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act from existence. Pence is much more zealous, and might repeal it altogether, without much good to replace it for millions of Americans living in poverty, or with pre-existing conditions.
The rule is that the top three candidates be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. There is no rule, though, that they could not consider Pence in the course of debate on the floor. If the House did stick with the three choices sent to them, Trump would survive, because of GOP fears of the changes in the SCOTUS.
If Trump were politically smart, not a situation that he has found himself in often, he would appoint Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff. It would send a signal that he intends to govern more moderately. If he chooses Stephen Bannon, the Alt-Right publisher cheerleader-in-chief of the fascist fomenting Breitbart News Network, then he intends to fulfill the pledges of his hate-filled stump rhetoric.
Electors are not invisible. Their nomination is public record, and Wikipedia lists them here. Lobbying one or more of them to stand with their country, and against the rise of fascist white power and reactive anger of minority groups that may tear a nation under Donald Trump apart, may be the only thing that saves the nation from years of discord, bigotry, and fiscal policy pushing us right back to the cliff that the nation almost fell off of in 2009 after eight years of Republican rule under George W. Bush.