Electoral College Monkey Business

Here’s what Spirited Reasoners thought we knew prior to the election of 2020: Americans choose their President not by awarding the job to the winner of the popular vote, but rather through an arcane process involving an Electoral College consisting of slates of representatives chosen on a state-by-state basis. In most cases—Nebraska and Maine being two notable exceptions—the popular vote winner in each state gets dibs on that state’s entire number of electors. And even in those two states, the popular vote winner in a Congressional district gets to name that district’s elector. Thus, it is the states, not the individual voters, who determine the winner.

Now, let’s enter the rabbit hole known as the 2020 presidential election. This past week, word surfaced that certain supporters of Donald Trump were attempting to hatch a plot aimed at subverting this already flawed system.

Here’s the scheme: Since the U. S. Constitution and the Electoral Count Act place the selection of electors squarely within the purview of each state, there is arguably nothing to prevent state legislatures from changing the manner in which their respective electors are chosen. Thus, the legislatures in states like Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia could convene prior to December 8 to pass laws instructing their respective Secretaries of State to award electors to Donald Trump rather than to Joe Biden.

Fortunately, there appears to be little stomach among Republican leaders in those states to engage in that sort of ex post facto goalpost adjusting. For example, a spokesperson for Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader, Mike Shirkey, was quoted as saying that “Michigan law does not include a provision for the Legislature to directly select electors or to award electors to anyone other than the person who received the most votes.” The very fact that this scheme was even being floated in GOP circles should sicken Spirited Reasoners everywhere.

Unfortunately, proposals to end the Electoral College would not put an end to these types of power games. Imagine, for a moment, what might have happened if the United States had already adopted a system that awarded the presidency to the winner of the popular vote count. The following questions would then arise:

  1. What official agency would be in charge of determining the winner of the popular vote count? Would it be a Federal Election Commission with members appointed by the President (Donald Trump)? Note that Article II, Section 2 of the U. S. Constitution could be interpreted by a Republican-leaning Supreme Court to require appointment of the chair of such a commission to be made by the President.
  2. What would happen if the Chair of that Commission announced that millions of ballots were being disqualified because they were “fraudulent”?
  3. Would this Commission be in charge of poll-watching and other responsibilities currently being handled at the local level?
  4. What would happen if the “official” tally of this government agency wound up being different from that of the mainstream media’s count?

Much as Spirited Reasoners would like to see an end, or at least some serious revisions made, in the current electoral system, we might be witnessing at least one virtue of the Electoral College: the manner in which it decentralizes the vote-counting process and removes it from the grasp of a power-hungry incumbent president.