The Electoral College is obsolete. That sentiment has been part of my political landscape for as long as I have had any understanding of voting as an American citizen. More precisely, since I was 9 years old watching Gore with 266 electoral votes lose to Bush with 271 despite Gore having 543,895 more of the popular vote.
The Framers of the Constitution* created the Electoral College as a compromise between Congress choosing the president and direct voter selection. They saw Congressional choice as being too distant, but they feared the size of the country would make direct voter participation prohibitively tough. A couple crucial points against direct voter selection no longer make sense.
The Electoral College was meant to protect the uninformed, those who have difficulty accessing information about the candidate or have no chance to hear the candidate speak. We have more access to information than the Framers could ever imagine. With the Internet, any invested voter with access to a smartphone, school or library can find droves of information on a given candidate. The Framers also worried that the candidates would favor the urban areas, as travel to the rural and western parts of the country was difficult. If the map from this election is any indication, we no longer have to worry about the rural parts of the country being left behind. I doubt I need to mention the advancements in travel that have occurred since 1787. Between the internet, modern travel and how long the campaign season runs, we would only need a requirement–say each candidate must spend 2 days in every state–to ensure citizens have ample access to the candidates and their policies.
We should not calm down. We should not accept this. Hillary won the popular vote by 337,636 more votes but lost the election with only 228 electoral votes. The voting populace of 2000 could have galvanized to affect change then. Since they did not and a similar outcome has presented itself, we need to take the mantle. The popular vote and electoral vote have only disagreed four times in American history and it has happened twice in the last two decades. We must make it known that this is a failed system.
I posit that we have an opportunity to express dissent and reach out in a multitude of ways to the Electoral College. Selected by our state legislatures in some places or voted on by the political parties’ central committee in others, the choice of Electoral voters must be solidified by December 13. They meet on December 19 to cast their votes for President and Vice President. Their choice for president will not be official until January 6. In the time before December 19, perhaps, we could persuade some of the Electorate to change their decisions.
If an electoral voter changes their choice and goes against their political party, they are called a faithless elector. From 1796 to 2004, there have been 157 faithless electors. Eighty-two of them changed their vote for personal reasons, while seventy-one changed theirs due to candidates dying before the choosing date. In this election, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina all went to Trump with a margin of less than 200,00 votes. Reach out to anyone you know in these states. Let them know that citizens in those states get vocal–call the electoral voters in your state or protest peacefully near their offices. Let them know that the people did not elect Donald Trump. Wikipedia lists all the electoral votes per state for 2016.
This is a far-fetched proposal. It is a proposal forged from a dire need for action. It’s unlikely and comes with multiple points where it could be reversed. Faithless electors are against state law for three of the states I mention above. In Michigan and North Carolina, a faithless elector will supposedly be suspended and replaced, with a fine as well for the NC elector. Due to the twelfth amendment, if faithless electors result in a tie, the House decides the President and the Senate decides on the VP. With the Republican majority, it’s very likely Donald’s victory would remain.
Even if this Electoral College action works and we can affect their vote, on January 6 the new Congress will meet to tally their vote. If even one person disagrees with the Electoral process, they can begin a dispute process that could end with the Secretary of State making the final call. That is why articles on the topic are quick to dismiss the electoral college as an effective step. However, no voting population has tried before.
So many socio-political movements in this country were unheard of or unthinkable before they started. Telling us of this option while denying the idea that action can happen is giving into supremacy. Let’s not give in. Let us do something unprecedented. Let’s use this moment of fear and energy to get Clinton into office then make moves dismantle the Electoral College. We will be much more capable of creating a multi-party system and making direct voter participation easier under Clinton than we will under Donald.
*As a statement of solidarity to the Indigenous people of this land as well as acknowledgement of the troublesome lives of these historical figures, I refuse to use the phrase Founding Fathers.
List of Electoral Voters