The Final Test of the Electoral College

“The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”

That Guy in that Musical Everyone is Nuts Over

It seems like we finally have an excellent test as to whether or not the Electoral College is worth the inequality it introduces to an already highly unequal system[1]: 

On the one hand, we have a popularly elected candidate with an enormous margin of victory (roughly 2.5 million votes?) who is highly qualified, thoroughly vetted, and has spent so many decades as a public servant that she is a very thoroughly known quantity.  On the other we have a historically unpopular candidate who has continued to behave in alarmingly erratic fashion since his election—for example, threatening to dismantle the First Amendment and strip individuals of their natural-born citizenship, as well as questioning the legitimacy of the election he won—who keeps himself cloaked in secrecy, is drowning in conflicts of interest, and eked out electoral victory on a technicality almost certainly because of the concerted effort of a foreign power antagonistic to US interests.

(DISCLOSURE: The first clause of the top tweet is untrue—see graph below—and the second clause entirely unsubstantiated.  The lower tweet ignores two decades of judicial precedence and sorta suggests that the PotUS should be able to jail people at will; both overstep the bounds of the Executive Branch.)

I’ve previously envied against the Electoral College (see, for example, footnote #1 below), but Lawrence Lessig is making a compelling counter argument in defense of the much-maligned Electoral College:

“Instead, if the electoral college is to control who becomes our president, we should take it seriously by understanding its purpose precisely. It is not meant to deny a reasonable judgment by the people. It is meant to be a circuit breaker — just in case the people go crazy.”

Or, as in the case this year, that the system itself seems to have been substantially short-circuited (or, perhaps more chillingly, to have become so well understood that it is now a completely deterministic game, like checkers—see also “The Book“—and thus will evermore be owned by folks with the talent for low intrigue, the little arts of popularity, and the technology to leverage radical uncertainty in a cognitively exhausted populace).

Others think differently from Lessig—Orin Kerr being the standout example—but I don’t know that I’m persuaded by Kerr’s thinking, which seems extremely obtuse, mostly because it treats an actual matter of life and death (think I’m being hyperbolic?  Tell that to 100,000 dead Iraqis and Afghans, courtesy of President G.W. Bush) as though it’s a damned game of groundies.  If you’re more into fantasy fiction, this novel Electoral College solution strikes me as simultaneously both more realistic and more far-fetched than anything else I’ve seen—which is kinda par for the course this year, right?  Shit, given how 2016 has gone, I wouldn’t be shocked if we ended up with a Romney/Stein inauguration come January.

(source: Eric Rauchway)
(source: Eric Rauchway)

At any rate, taken at face value, we now will finally know:  If Trump is inaugurated next January—contrary to the will of a clear majority of Americans who cast votes which were counted (a number that is itself a subset of the total votes cast, and a sadly small subset of the total adult American population) and despite serious flaws in character and qualification—then the Electoral College has certainly outlived its usefulness, and it’s time to make a big change.

If someone else—hell, almost anyone else—is inaugurated in 44 days, then we’ll finally really and truly know what the Electoral College is for in the 21st Century.


[1] Highly unequal, and, arguably, increasingly unequal:  As it is right now, because of how electoral votes are apportioned, votes are weighted disproportionately.  For example, a single voter in small-population Wyoming has, in essence, the same voting power as four Michiganders.  It’s akin to Baker v. Carr, although less extreme in magnitude (in Baker v. Carr the complaint was that voters in the sparsely populated white/rural gerrymandered districts had ~25X the voting power of those in the urban/black districts) while more fundamentally offensive, as Baker v. Carr was one State, and our current clusterfuck covers all 50—all of which is amplified by the simple fact that the rural areas of the US are both emptying out and remaining largely white, while the urban centers are driving our population growth—which is decidedly brown.  An increasing portion of the population our increasingly brown nation is becoming increasingly disenfranchised.  Our current electoral system sows the seeds of apartheid.