Trump Exposes a Peculiar Strength of the Electoral College

Spirited Reasoners can give a litany of reasons to hate the Electoral College. For starters, one need only look at the (arguably) anti-democratic results of the presidential elections of 1876 (Hayes-Tilden), 2000 (Bush-Gore), and 2016 (Trump-Clinton) to get a sense of the problem. Not only does the Electoral College discount individual votes in states with larger populations (because smaller states, regardless of population, enjoy two free electors, one for each senator, thus bloating their respective number of electoral votes), it further skews results because of the law in most states that requires electors to vote as a bloc. So, when Donald Trump barely squeaks by Joe Biden in Texas, Florida, and/or North Carolina, he won’t get 51% of each state’s electoral votes. He’ll get 100%. That’s just the way it works.

As a result of that madness, what we are now watching is a campaign in which the lion’s share of resources is pouring into six so-called swing-states based solely on their ability to provide Electoral College clout. The rest of us, those living in the other 44 states, can be safely ignored. Or so conventional wisdom goes.

None of which has one iota of relevance to this week’s blog post, which highlights a central virtue of our archaic and unfair system.

This past week, President Trump made repeated noises about his unwillingness to accept the results of this year’s election, despite the fact that a majority of the secretaries of state—those who certify election results in each state—are Republicans. In almost every state, these individuals will send an official certificate to Congress declaring the names and preferences of their respective jurisdictions’ electors. Envelopes containing those votes will then be opened and counted, in accordance with Article II, Section 1 of the U. S. Constitution (and Title 3, Chapter 1 of the U. S. Code), before a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021, with the Vice President presiding.

Now, imagine if federal law were changed in such a manner that the presidential election were to be determined solely by popular vote, with ballots and other election machinery controlled from Washington, D. C., perhaps under the purview of a new federal agency. The official in charge of that agency would, pursuant to current Constitutional law, be appointed by the President.

If such a system were in place right now, does anyone doubt that President Trump would ensure the appointment of a vote-counter favorable to his reelection? The primary reason why President Trump is forced, instead, to moan and grown about the unfairness of mail-in ballots is because, currently, states and Congress—not the Executive Branch of government—control 99% of the process that will determine our next President. The only role for the Executive is that of the Vice President, as noted above. (Conceivably, Mike Pence could decide to drag his feet and not allow the joint session to move forward. In any world other than the world of Donald Trump, Spirited Reasoners would deem such behavior highly unlikely. Unfortunately, his recent statements cause us to wonder.)

So, if we ever do decide, as a nation, to elect our President based on the popular vote, let’s remember to leave control over the mechanisms of voting in the hands of our 50 states. Otherwise, an overly ambitious President might just decide to take an active measure in the actual counting of the ballots.

Hard to imagine that the very institution that gave Donald Trump an unfair shot at the presidency might be the last remaining firewall saving us from dictatorial rule.