Defecting Electors are the System Working

I’m pretty confident that despite a few electors making noises about switching their vote, that Donald Trump will still occupy the Oval Office by the end of January. But people on the left and right are going nuts over this. To the extent that electors are receiving threats, that’s beyond the pale, but I have no problem with trying to influence electors to switch their vote through peaceful means. I also don’t have issues with electors actually switching their vote. While it’s not a popular position today, I’m a huge proponent of the Electoral College, for the following reasons:

  • It gives a voice to smaller states that would otherwise be completely irrelevant in National Politics. And yes, I’m OK with rural people having outsized influence. Why? Because city folks don’t understand or care about rural folks, and without rural folks, city folks starve. I think protecting their interests from a dismissive and smug majority that doesn’t understand them is important.
  • It prevents variability in the election system from bringing the results into doubt. There was a lot of “selected, not elected” talk after Bush v. Gore in 2000, but there was never any legal doubt about Bush being a legitimate President because the Electoral College is the lawful body that elects the President. Likewise, a close popular vote count would be far more consequential, bring dozens of state electoral systems under the microscope.
  • The Electoral College is a final check against the people doing something extremely rash. Given the horrible choices in this election, I don’t feel too bad about a few electors going faithless. That lets me know the Electoral College might not actually rubber stamp a real Hitler or Mussolini. Hillary and Donald Trump were awful candidates, but I don’t believe either of them are potential dictators. I don’t think this election rises to the level of the Electoral College thwarting the will of the people, but a bit of controversy, from my point of view, isn’t unwelcome.

I suspect there’s going to be a lot of call for abandoning the Electoral College, but that would establish a true, national election. In every other instance in federal elections, we vote as states. I don’t think the Electoral College is an anachronism, and it’s an important buffer between the people and the Presidency. It may be that Hillary won the popular vote, but that is relatively meaningless, since the campaign strategy to win in a majority vote system would be very different from the system we have. It’s impossible to know whether Hillary Clinton would have won the popular vote if we were a 50%+1 takes it kind of system. I think we ought to keep the Electoral College in place.

28 thoughts on “Defecting Electors are the System Working”

  1. Most of the votes that put Hillary ahead in the popular vote came from California, a state that issues Driver Licenses to illegal aliens that can be used to register to vote provided that they pinky-swear they are legally entitled to do so. Wanna bet on how many of those votes came from illegals? Wanna bet how many dead Republicans cast votes for Democrat candidates in Illinois and Philadelphia?


      The 83 ballots, each unused, were addressed to different people, all supposedly living in his elderly neighbor’s two-bedroom apartment.

      “I think this is spooky,” Mosna said. “All the different names, none we recognize, all at one address.”

      His wife, Madalena Mosna, noted their 89-year-old neighbor lives by herself, and, “Eighty people can’t fit in that apartment.”

  2. I suppose this kind of scenario is why there actually are human “electors” and not just points assigned to each state, to be won by the majority/plurality vote-getter.

    However, I wonder if the assumptions applied by the founders were any different, back in a day when team-sport political partisanship wasn’t yet as ingrained in the American psyche as it is today. (Or was the country born this way? It seems worth looking up!) As alluded to by that article, elector commitment to the parties would appear to be sufficiently strong to make any possibility of a significant rebellion remote. Hitler with an (R) behind his name or Satan with a (D) would get the same number of electoral votes, so just assigning points and not requiring actual humans to cast votes would probably yield the same results.

    1. The modern incarnation of the Electoral Collage is somewhat different from the original form. It’s probably worth a real discussion whether the current form is really what we (the people) want. Though I suspect a number of those currently calling for its abolition are simply partisans who have argued the other way in the past and will argue differently in the future, depending on election results.

      The winner-of-a-popular-vote-in-a-state-takes-all-of-the-electors model was a minority system until 1824. Many of the Constitutions framers thought that electors would be chosen by popular votes in a district, but some form of winner-take-all soon became prominent because each state wanted to maximize its impact by having all of its electors vote for the same candidate. As the winner-of-popular-vote… model started to become entrenched, James Madison proposed a Constitutional amendment to mandate a district vote but that appears to have gone nowhere.

    2. Original voting was based on land ownership, so the opportunity for fraud was almost nil.

        1. You know, Whetherman, you are connected to more information, wisdom, opinion and raw data than nearly every human being who ever lived, and yet it appears you will not bestir yourself to stick even the simplest query into a search engine.

          Cite the ways in which the system of electing Federal officials was “already a fraud,” and include your sources. Extra points if they’re not current media opinionators.

      1. Actually, there were scams even when that was the case. Say you were a sheisster looking to get elected. You have a friend who has some spare land, and is willing to parcel that land up into affordable amounts. You get your friends to purchase the parcels to technically be eligible to vote, and then buy it back from them after you’ve won the election. I forget where I read or heard about this scam, but there were ways around the rules even then.

  3. I agree completely with this post. The importance of the Electoral college has only been tarnished because the damn school system does not educate about it, properly.

  4. Wholeheartedly agree. Glad there is the system and glad they can be faithless.

  5. That is a dangerous door that you could be opening, though. There is an implied contract here – my state electors are supposed to vote as the state has voted. Since my state (Wisky) went Republican, my electors are supposed to vote as such for Donald Trump. If they choose to go faithless, why should I have any faith anymore in the electoral system? Do our votes become simply an advisory to the electors, who are free to ignore them if they feel they know better?

    1. “Since my state (Wisky) went Republican, my electors are supposed to vote as such for Donald Trump.”

      Are you sure? In Pennsylvania each party places a ticket its own electors on the ballot, and despite what the ballot may say, it is they that voters are casting their vote for, not for the presidential candidates, per se. Of course, electors are presumed to support only their own party’s candidates for POTUS and VP.

      I was a Libertarian elector in 1992. I was not elected, but I think I got a couple hundred thousand votes. Almost no one knew they were voting for me, and at the time, I think 24 other Libertarians.

      In Virginia, Roger MacBride was a so-called “faithless elector” on the Republican ticket in 1972. Once elected, he could not bring himself to vote for Richard Nixon, so cast his electoral vote for the very first Libertarian candidates for president and vice president, John Hospers and Toni Nathan. He thus made Toni Nathan the very first woman in history (I think) to receive an electoral vote. However, I believe there have been many other examples of faithless electors in history.

      It is my understanding that different states have different penalties for faithless electors, and presumably some have no penalties. The one specific example I’ve heard of this year is, a $1000 fine for casting a faithless vote. That seems relatively trivial and not likely to discourage an elector motivated by conscience.

  6. A friend called the electoral college, “affirmative action for the rural people”. Those are certainly terms the liberals calling for it’s demise should understand….

    1. Oh they do understand that.
      To them, the rural people in ‘fly over’ country are a political burden they’ve been trying to shed for centuries.

      The progressives don’t care all that much about affirmative action for groups they don’t see eye to eye on.

  7. I’d prefer to see some changes to the system for selecting federal legislative districts. Today its gerrymandered all around. I’d much rather see a more geographically-centrist model where a district would have to be defined by the least number of borders in as close to a square as possible, barring significant geological features (rivers, etc.). It’s not perfect and would still leave some wiggle room, but it would seriously constrain the abuses.

    Next step would be every elector to the college being an independent voice from each district, able to vote its own voice. No more “winning the state of…” because it’d come down to a district by district count.

    Yes, today that would benefit Republicans but keep in mind the House was a Dem institution for decades. You can’t argue it a permanent majority for any one side.

    The biggest benefit would be a reduction in the power of cities to overwhelm whole states (Philly and PA, for instance) and would require candidates to talk to the deplorable middle. It would also lessen the malaise that comes from people feeling that their votes won’t count – rural districts would have as much a count in the end as an urban district because each could vote a different candidate even though they are in the same state.

    1. The state winner-take-all standard minimizes the effects of district gerrymandering. You can’t “gerrymander” state borders.

      1. I get that, but at the same time the voters of Kern County, CA and Washington County, MD have no real say in national politics. Those counties can vote until red in the face, and it won’t matter because Los Angeles and Baltimore.

        I don’t want a pure popular vote contest for the same reason, but I think that using a full state census is too large a metric. The difference between life in Big Bear and Los Angeles is so different that we’re looking at two distinct cultures, one permanently subservient to the other.

        Using smartly drawn federal electoral districts would be better. And I don’t think it matters who comes out ahead today, because it won’t take long for a move back to the middle once every district has an equal say in the outcome.

        Not like this is seriously possible, but it’s a fun thought exercise on Turkey Day. Thanks for your comments.

    2. Philly’s power, right now, is diminished by Gerrymandering because the GOP has gotten to redraw the districts for the past two censuses. If you squared them out, the city would have more power. But other states like California would probably become more competitive, since it’s been the Dems that have drawn those districts.

      I don’t see an easy way out of the problem of drawing districts. Some states use independent bodies to do it, but I don’t get the impression those states do a better job.

      1. It seems to me that if you want districting/redistricting to be anything resembling “honest,” it should be done using an algorithm that does nothing but divide the state into the desired number of districts, based on boundaries of contiguous municipalities, and so the population of each district is as nearly equal as possible. Developing such an alogorithm should not be exactly rocket science, and I would not be surprised if versions exist already, or could be easily developed by modifying existing engineering or mathematical/statistical software.

        The minute you insert any motive of factionalism into your districting logic you are opening the door for crookedness. Of course crookedness is fine when you are working it to your faction’s advantage, but there will almost certainly come a time when history changes and it will work to your disadvantage. As you noted, Pennsylvania is biased Republican while California is biased Democrat.

      2. To a point, I don’t mind gerrymandering…much. When an overwhelming majority district feels one way on the issues, and their representative feels pretty much the same way, that district’s interests are probably being represented pretty well up on Capitol Hill. That is as it should be, so far so good. I draw the line, though, when they start playing little games to advantage themselves over the other party by changing the way they cut up the map. Maybe the rule should be that gerrymandering is okay, provided that the delegation you end up sending reflects the overall makeup of the registered voters in the state at large?–but now we’re getting complicated, and complications mean loopholes, and loopholes mean corruption, and we’re back to where we started except quite possibly worse. Why not switch to proportional representation while we’re at it, and vote for the party rather than the candidate?

    3. I have mixed feelings about Gerrymandering, but all the Democrats who are shouting “But Republicans are winning because of Gerrymandering!!!” do not get my sympathy. These Democrats were all right with Gerrymandering when it was done in their favor; they merely don’t like it when their opponents are doing it.

      One can argue that Gerrymandering actually provides a stabilizing force in politics…but that’s a double-edged sword. And while it stabilizes things, there’s no guarantee that a Gerrymandered district will *always* vote the way you want them to…

      It’s my understanding that there are voting methods to get around Gerrymandering (generally, select something like five to nine representatives for a given region, chosen by preferential voting), but I’m not entirely sure if I trust the methodology, or if I could trust the implementers to get it right).

      Overall, though, we’re just talking about tweaking obscure rules. This could be good in that we can ensure better representation, but all the tweaking of voting systems in the world isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans if we don’t convince the Electorate to vote for liberty!

  8. I still have yet to take the time to see what would have resulted in this election, but, off-the-cuff, proportional distribution of electors rather than “winner takes all” seems to me an easy balance for the various positions.

    The numbers for the smaller parties would be tricky to figure (have to come up with a minimum threshold somehow) but, in general, in a very closely divided state the pop vote winner would get 50%+1 of the electoral votes (if the state has an odd number, 15 would give 8/7; if an even number, 16 would give 9/7). Wider margins would result in bigger spreads.

    That would give every voter a “voice,” even in the “solid blue/red” high pop states, and would lessen their disproportionate impact. Dem candidates could no longer coast on one or two major cities and would be forced to fight for rural votes in the “swing” states; while the Rep candidates couldn’t take rural counties for granted in any, yet would have a reason to try to sell their message in both rural and urban areas to all who might listen, rather than writing them off, even in the “deep blue” states.

    1. I kindof like the Utah Republican (and perhaps Democrat) Primary standard: if you get a majority of the votes, you would get all the delegates; if you don’t, then the delegates would be assigned proportionally, if you exceed a certain threshold (which I think is something like 10% or 15%).

      By that standard, in Utah, Trump would have gotten 3 of Utah’s delegates, Clinton 2, and McMellan 1.

      Personally, though, while I can understand the importance of discussing election rules, and trying to decide if they could be better, to a large extent, talking about such things often feels like shuffling the chairs on the Titanic…

      1. Well, as long as we only talk about it every 4 years, when the roof is leaking, and ignore it the other 3. ;)

        Utah’s is the kind of system I was thinking of. Which means I probably read about it once and gradually assumed it was my idea.

  9. I respectfully disagree with Sebastian. If the discussion pertains to constitutional crises and electors disobeying state laws and violating my civil rights, then the discussion should include when the credible threat of violent force by citizens to influence others is legal. In some cases, the right to threaten is protected by the 10th, 13th, and 14th amendments, and can’t be restricted by law. Once you open the extraordinary events allow for extraordinary measures, you don’t get to hide behind ‘the law doesn’t allow that’.

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