The Electors’ Moral Duty

I am entirely opposed to the Electoral College as a means of choosing the President of the United States. I proudly worked for an organization that had repeal of the Electoral College, replacing it with a national popular vote, as one of its three or four prime reasons for existing.

But that’s what we’ve got right now. While I’m horrified that it has allowed Donald Trump to become the president-elect, I don’t believe that his election is “unfair” just because Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly won the popular vote. Both campaigns ran to win the Electoral College vote, not the popular vote, and Trump succeeded. That’s the game both of them were playing. If it had been a popular vote contest, they absolutely would have run entirely different campaigns, and it’s impossible to say for sure what that outcome would have been (though we can guess). Hillary knows it. Al Gore knew it. Them’s the breaks.

As the electors themselves are about to vote, there is a lot of noise about whether some of them will “defect,” as it were, and that some of those who are pledged to Donald Trump will vote for someone else, or not at all. There are talks of secret discussions, compromise candidates, legal challenges, intelligence briefings, and postponements.

I don’t think anything is actually going to happen. Sure, one or two electors may ultimately vote in contradiction to their pledge, but I do not believe we’re going to see anything that changes the result of the election.

But I do support the efforts to do so, and I hope I am wrong that nothing will change.

It’s not a simple matter. Changing the result of the election will have enormous consequences, the likes of which we can’t yet predict. Put aside the legal and constitutional questions, put aside the totally unprecedented confusion over transitions and appointments that will transpire.

Merely imagine for a moment a scenario in which, by one mechanism or another, Trump is denied the presidency in favor of another candidate, be it Clinton or a GOP compromise candidate. I cannot believe that such a reversal would not spark chaos among the populace. I’m talking actual riots and violence from angry Trump supporters, supporters who are not exactly peaceful and friendly in victory, let alone defeat. People will be hurt, some may be killed, the economy will take a rollercoaster ride, and whatever regime does wind up taking power will be debilitated in myriad ways: choked by a thick cloud of illegitimacy, pilloried by hails of lunatic conspiracy theories and vicious opposition from the far right, and who knows what else. It will be awful.

But it will pass, eventually, and even in the worst imaginings, it will be better than a Donald Trump presidency.

I know I am on record months ago as believing that Trump was preferable to, say, a Cruz or Rubio presidency, but I of course have been thoroughly disabused of this, and I would gladly welcome a President Ted Cruz over what we’re about to endure. More likely, if there was some kind of alteration of the election, we’d be looking at a President Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, or John Kasich. Fine. Great. Welcome to the Oval Office. Nice to have you.

Why is this better than just coping with the status quo and dealing with whatever comes of a Trump administration? Here are some things a Trump presidency will, with near certainty, mean. They require almost no speculation, just common sense:

  • Climate change will accelerate beyond the point that humans could do anything to mitigate
  • The Supreme Court will lurch far to the right, perhaps for generations
  • Putin’s Russia will become far more powerful and audacious
  • Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other badly needed social programs will be gutted or destroyed entirely
  • The Affordable Care Act will be mutilated or repealed, and millions of Americans will lose their insurance
  • American police will become even more militarized, and incarcerations will go way up
  • Public education will lose funding in favor of private and religious schools
  • The EPA and the FDA will be neutered, if not abolished altogether, or else turned into marketing tools for the industries they are supposed to regulate, putting millions of lives in danger
  • The poorest Americans will become poorer
  • Minority groups will have their voting rights strangled to the point of de facto disenfranchisement
  • The press will be stifled and under constant threat of retaliation from the government
  • Nazis, white supremacists, men’s rights advocates, and other blights on humanity will complete their exit from the shadows and become normal parts of American public life and politics

I could go on.

The members of the Electoral College, I feel, have a moral duty to stop this.

I think it’s worth the short-term risk of chaos and the loss of confidence in the Electoral College system. It’s worth these citizens violating their vows to vote as directed by their states. The electors are human beings, Americans who have to live in this country, and on this planet, too. But they are also Americans who by dint of circumstance have the power to save us, and one chance to do it.

They won’t. I’m nearly sure of it. But I really hope they do.

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P.S.; Here’s an interview Lawrence Lessig just did with the Washington Post, discussing his initiative to confidentially assist any electors who are considering taking action like this.

 

Romney’s New Game, House Rules

Mitt Romney is not an idiot. He knows that he can’t possibly win a presidential election as an independent candidate. And that’s even assuming he could get onto the ballot in enough states in time, which he can’t, having already missed Texas’s deadline. No Republican/conservative candidacy can win without Texas.

But I still give credence to this Washington Post report about his and Bill Kristol’s recruitment efforts for an anti-Trump candidacy, and it all comes down to this single paragraph:

One related objective is to prevent both Clinton and Trump from clinching a majority in the electoral college and thus throwing the presidential election to the House of Representatives, under the provision of the 12th Amendment of the Constitution. This scenario played out in 1824, when Andrew Jackson won a plurality of electoral and popular votes but was defeated in the House by John Quincy Adams.

I don’t think this is a “related objective.” I think it’s the only objective. A presidential election decided by the House of Representatives is the only path to victory for Mitt Romney who, as I have noted, still desperately wants to be president. When he positioned himself as a fallback/draft candidate back when Trump’s victory was not yet assured, he must have known then that his chances were slim…slim but feasible.

And so it is here. It’s still pretty damned unlikely that a Romney independent candidacy could win any electoral votes, let alone enough to throw the election to the House, but it’s possible. He’d need to rack up electoral votes in states where he could plausibly squeeze out plurality wins against Trump and Clinton. The most likely places for that to happen, however, would be states that Clinton is already going to lose. So to make this plan work, Romney needs to eke out wins in a few blue states, and that’s really where this falls apart.

It’s not impossible. If we start with the 2012 race as a starting point, and, for example, give Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Michigan to independent-Romney, the election goes to the House. This assumes that Clinton doesn’t flip any ’12 red states blue in the mean time. You could also have a scenario where, say, Trump wins Iowa from the Democrats, but Romney wins Virginia. You get the idea. Not impossible, but very unlikely.

But “unlikely” could be enough as far as Romney and the anti-Trump GOP forces are concerned.

Of course, there’d be one more enormous hurdle, which is actually winning an election by the House. It’s not a majority-vote situation there. If the presidential election goes to the House of Representatives, each state’s delegation gets one vote. So the question then becomes whether Romney could convince a majority of Members within each state’s delegation to vote for him. (Oh, and the Senate would pick the vice-president. Fun, right?)

A deadlocked Electoral College vote going to the House would normally be an easy win for the GOP in a two-person race, because of the party’s vast over-representation in Congress. But two “Republicans”? I wouldn’t begin to know how to predict that. But I can say that it represents a glimmer of hope for Romney’s quixotic, last-ditch effort in his decade-long quest to become president.

The Myth of the Tight Presidential Race

The headline Washington Post chooses for its new poll showing a tight national popular vote race between the president and Mr. Romney says:

But this is wrong in what it implies. The headline, and much of the chatter around it, will tell you that the race is a tie. But popular votes don’t decide presidential elections, Electoral College votes do.

To get a better look at the actual state of the race, just go to FiveThirtyEight for Nate Silver’s forecasts, and you get a much different picture:

So sure, the popular vote is almost certainly “neck and neck.” But the actual presidential race is not.

Once again, there is a bag, and Obama’s victory is to be found within it.