The Electoral College Was Designed To Prevent Trump. You Can Make This Happen.

Trump can still be stopped. The Founding Fathers foresaw just this catastrophe, and built a fail-safe into the Constitution.

It's called the Electoral College. Alexander Hamilton was explicit: this mechanism was designed to ensure 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." In short, it was designed to prevent just this situation: the rise of an unqualified demagogue like Donald Trump.

You can make it do what it was meant to do.

The requirement here is modest: a small group of Republican electors must be persuaded to vote their conscience. No question that many of these are appalled at the prospect of a Trump presidency; surely a few are courageous enough to cast a vote for someone else. (Most if not all would vote for another Republican, of course; it doesn't seem likely that many would choose Hillary Clinton.) Depending upon how current recounts turn out, somewhere between a minimum of ten and a maximum of thirty-seven electors would have to defect in order to bring Trump's count down to less than 270.

If neither party ends up with 270 votes, then the decision passes to the House of Representatives, and a vote in that chamber determines the winner. The House is permitted to choose from among the three candidates who receive the most votes in the Electoral College. Hence, dissenting electors can rest assured that they -- and the voters they represent -- will end up with a Republican president. [...]

Why should Democrats fight for this? Because any conceivable choice on the part of the Electoral College and the House, however extreme, would be preferable to Trump.

This would not be an abuse of the Constitution. Quite the opposite, as I say: it would be the proper use of the Constitution to prevent the abuse of a general election. The Founding Fathers would have approved. More: they would have been distressed to see this not happen, given the circumstances. They chose to found a republic that was not a direct democracy, and this is why: a simple binding majority vote provides no check upon the election of a tyrant. (This election was an exception, ironically: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and direct democracy would have spared the world the terrifying promise of a Trump presidency.) [...]

So, how do you accomplish this? The process is simple: write to electors in states that went red, and beg them to vote their conscience. The complete list of relevant electors can be found here, with contact information: "Flip the 37." Petition: Electoral College Electors: Make Hillary Clinton President on December 19:

We are calling on the Electors to ignore their states' votes and cast their ballots for Secretary Clinton. Why?

Mr. Trump is unfit to serve. His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience make him a danger to the Republic.

Secretary Clinton won the popular vote and should be President.

You Dumb Motherfuckers, By James Madison:

Hey there shitheads. Remember me? Yeah, it's James *fucking* Madison. Third Secretary of State? Supervisor of the Louisiana Purchase? Fourth President of the United States of America? That guy. How's it going?

What's that? You're scared? You're worried you might elect as the next President a misogynistic turkey leg that somehow escaped the state fair, fell into a bale of hay, and inexplicably managed to bankrupt six companies? Oh dear, that sounds stressful. And nobody saw it coming? Wow, that sucks. I mean, Jesus Christ, how did nobody consider that one day, some insane demagogue might incite a populist rebellion and threaten to shit on our country? How did no one think to create some kind of safeguard?


Remember that Constitution you guys all say you *loooove* so much? Yeah, I wrote that shit. All of it. Even though for some reason you assholes keep thinking it was Jefferson. And because I'm way smarter than all of you, I wrote in a little something I call the Electoral College.

Yeah, so, Mr. Madison's dissent aside...

The idea behind the Electoral College is that the people can't be directly trusted, and instead appoint a set of grown-ups to make the actual decisions for them. It's the same reason we have a Congress and Senate instead of just letting everyone vote on laws directly.

However, in practice what the Electoral College does is disenfranchise huge parts of the country, because its dynamics ensure that Presidential campaigns only really happen in about six contentious states, which are neither the most populous nor the most typical. The candidates focus their campaigns on those states, and the topics that resonate most with those states, and ignore the rest of the country. That's why Ohio and Florida get to decide who our President is, and California largely doesn't matter, despite having more than twice their combined population.

What are the Major Shortcomings of the Current System of Electing the President?

First, voters are effectively disenfranchised in two thirds of the states in presidential elections. Under the now-prevailing statewide winner-take-all rule, presidential candidates do not campaign in states in which they are far ahead because they do not receive any additional electoral votes by winning such states by a larger margin. Similarly, candidates ignore states where they are far behind because they have nothing to gain by losing those states by a smaller margin. Instead, presidential candidates concentrate their public appearances, organizational efforts, advertising, polling, and policy attention on states where the outcome of the popular vote is not a foregone conclusion. In practical political terms, a vote matters in presidential politics only if it is cast in a closely divided battleground state. To put it another way, the question of whether a voter matters in presidential politics depends on whether other voters in the voter's own state happen to be closely divided. In the five most recent presidential elections (1988 -- 2004), about two thirds of the states have been non-competitive, including six of the nation's 10 most populous states (California, Texas, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and North Carolina), 12 of the 13 least populous states; and the vast majority of medium-sized states.

Second, the current system does not reliably reflect the nationwide popular vote. The statewide winner-take-all rule makes it possible for a candidate to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

So this is why I hold two opinions that the simpleminded might see as contradictory:

  1. Given that the Electoral College exists, it would be right and proper, not to mention legal, to use that system to keep a fascist, racist rapist out of office.
  2. The Electoral College is a bad system and should be replaced with a national popular vote.

There's an interesting approach underway in an attempt to make this happen without having to go the full route of a Constitutional amendment: states are individually passing laws saying "our electors pledge to follow the popular vote, but only as soon as enough other states have also signed on." (Game theory!)

Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions possessing 165 electoral votes -- 61% of the 270 electoral votes necessary to activate it. [...]

Because of these state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the issues of concern to voters in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. As shown on the map, two-thirds of the 2012 general-election campaign events (176 of 253) were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa). Thirty-eight states were ignored.

State winner-take-all statutes adversely affect governance. "Battleground" states receive 7% more federal grants than "spectator" states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

Two-thirds of Presidential Campaign Is in Just 6 States

Two-thirds (273 of 399) of the general-election campaign events in the 2016 presidential race were in just 6 states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan).

94% of the 2016 events (375 of the 399) were in 12 states (the 11 states identified earlier in the year as "battleground" states by Politico and The Hill and Arizona. This fact validates the statement by former presidential candidate and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin on September 2, 2015, that ""The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are."

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28 Responses:

  1. They also foresaw a country in which elected leaders were statesmen and patriots.

  2. phuzz says:

    Out of interest, are the votes in the electoral colleges private? That is, the result is announced, but not which person cast it?

    Recent events have reminded me of a Churchill quote:

    "democracy is the worst form of Government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"

  3. MattyJ says:

    I'm no political scientist, and I might be mildly retarded from a blow to the head when I was young, but would instituting a national popular vote just shift the concentration on battleground states to big 'battleground' cities? There would still be no reason to campaign in Podunk, IA, and the rural vote would essentially end up being useless/wasted. I'm not sure it's a good thing, but this campaign has shown (I think) that rural voters in less populated states can have more of a say. I mean, they picked the wrong fucking guy and I'm hoping the Electoral College does what it's supposed to do (they won't), but I'm also not sure I just want everyone in L.A., Chicago and NYC to pick our President, either.

    • jwz says:

      So the "battleground" should include the areas where the majority of the citizens actually live?

      Sounds good to me.

      So the campaigning should have to take in to account the concerns of the majority of the people instead of only the majority of the people in 6 states that are almost by definition not representative of the nation as a whole?

      That sounds good to me, too.

      • MattyJ says:

        Dunno. On paper I thought part of the purpose of the Electoral College was to give people in sparsely populated states more weight. Instead of their one red vote out of hundreds of millions, it's one out of 270. Not sure if that's good or bad.

        My main concern with simple majority is that Trump is so wrong, so unfit, so nutty, and given the 1 million or so vote difference Hillary gets for the popular vote, the margin is _not that big,_ barely a majority. Someone that's 10% less insane than Trump could easily swing the popular vote their way, and then (at least on paper) there really is no recourse.

        • George Dorn says:

          There's several things wrong with the Electoral College, and the number of electors per state is only one of them.

          1. Rural states have too many electors. This wasn't to protect "sparsely populated" states so much as "states with extremely small voting populations" - i.e. slave states. When your state has only a handful of landowning white men, proportional representation looks pretty unfair. Hell, even adding in the extra two electors per state wasn't enough; they had to count 3/5ths of some of the non-voters, too...

          2. Winner-take-all. Nevermind if the number of mauve voters is ten times the number of beige voters, if the mauve voters tend to concentrate in cities their much, much louder and numerous preference can lose to a wide distribution of beige voters. Here's a math exercise to drive the point home: what's the maximum popular vote percentage that can still lose the electoral college?

          From a humanist perspective, we should be optimizing for minimum unhappy people (or voters), not the maximum "happy" arbitrarily-bounded parcels of land. We should have abolished the EC when we stopped restricting the vote to only white male landowners.

          • nooj says:

            what's the maximum popular vote percentage that can still lose the electoral college?


            That's with 1 unopposed vote in the top 11 states (270 electoral votes), and 100% popular turnout in the other states. (2015 estimates)

            If voter turnout is equal in all states (say 100%), then if the winner receives, in each of the top 11 states (50% + 1) votes, and 0 votes in all other states, then the losing candidate will lose with 91.5 million out of 321.4 million votes, or 71.5%

    • Greg says:

      You can look at senate elections to see that cities wouldn't automatically dominate politics. There are states where they do (New York) states where the cities and other areas are more evenly matched (Pennsylvania) and states where they're drowned out (Georgia.) The fact that the popular vote has been very close for several elections shows that the presidency would still be within reach to both parties. In fact, one of the reasons the polls were off is that Trump was able to turn out the rural vote much more than expected.

      Now, you could argue that cities would dominate the Democratic Party since that would be their power base, but that's different.

    • As it is, sparsely populated "red" states like MT, WY, ID, OK, AR, get no attention from presidential candidates of either party, because they do not swing. If candidates could actually win or lose votes in those places, they might have some incentive to campaign there and increase the effective voice in those states enjoy currently. Whether a campaign rally in a state of 1 million has a similar ROI as a campaign rally in a city of 1 million is a harder question.

      The founding fathers may have intended the EC to differentially advantage small states, but it does not actually do so to even a first-order approximation. We in the 21st century are actually quite a bit better at math than they were. We can and should revisit this arrangement.

  4. emacsomancer says:

    I think we should go with the choice that the 47% majority went for: "none of the above".

  5. David Kendal says:

    Even for those who agree with the existence of the Electoral College — usually because they think it’s a good idea to give less populous areas of the country more of a say so the candidates don’t just focus on a few densely-populated areas — even they must recognize that it’s absurd to disregard Republican voters in California or Democrats in Texas entirely from the vote.

    The correct way to solve the problem for those who dislike the idea of a national popular vote is to get the states to allocate their electors by party proportionally. If 60% of voters in California want a Democrat, and 40% a Republican, 60% of California’s electors should be Democratic and 40% of them Republican. (This would work because less populous states get more seats than they ‘deserve’ according to their population, as a limited amount correction for the disparity in state population.)

    That said, a national popular vote remains the best option in my view. A proportional electoral college might be a workable compromise for those who insist on keeping it, though.

  6. I'd like to see this happen, but President Paul Ryan isn't really an improvement.

    • jwz says:

      You think that President Paul Ryan isn't an improvement over President (I can't even say it) Donald Trump?

      Nobody wants to eat a shit sandwich, but come on, you're comparing one to an Old Testament plague of boils.

      • dave says:

        That's comparing bad ideas to dumb ideas. Or wrong vs evil.

        Trump is, outside of many business interests and his love of getting even, largely unconcerned with a lot of politics that people care about. (abortion or gay marriage. note that on these topics he's a human markov chain -- he believes the last thing that was said to him. so did someone say women should be punished for abortions? let's punish women for having abortions! and the moment someone calls him on it and says different, he walks that dog back.) Paul Ryan is an ardent believer in a way that Trump simply isn't (outside of a small subset of his interests).

        • Ru says:

          Have you looked at who Trump is appointing to run the country on his behalf? It doesn't matter whether Trump is a true believer or not, because the deluge of shit who will be actually getting stuff done are very clearly true believers.

      • I wish you wrote essays and stuck them on Medium.

        • jwz says:

          I uh, have my own blog instead?

          • Let me rephrase that.

            I wish that I had more opportunities to see longer pieces of writing by you that include phrases like "old testament plague of boils" that made their way out of this presumably under-visited, tiny corner of the web, be it Medium or whatever. Primarily, I wish there were more things of the /gruntle persuasion for me to read, because it makes me happy, and because I am too much of a coward to write this way myself. Long-time reader. Like, since installing Mozilla for the first time in graduate school. That is all.

  7. I would donate to a fund to pay for any fines that the electoral college might face. Seems like many other would too? Not as a bribe but to prevent them from being punished for doing the right thing.

  8. NT says:

    Yikes, someone posted email addresses for the electors and they look like regular personal email addresses. Poor bastards.

  9. busboy says:

    A national popular vote or proportional allocation of electors in the states with regard to the executive nominee would play out exactly the opposite of how you think it would. The major "blue" urban centers would be massively diluted by their host states. There would be republican rule for decades. Huge numbers of people in rural CA and NY who don't bother to vote in national elections would vote en masse.

  10. DC says:

    Dude, we're on the same team. I donated (more than $800....) first to Bernie, and later to Hillary. I'm disappointed with the outcome, too.

    Calling the person 60m Americans just voted for a "fascist, racist rapist" is just not true or helpful.

    Avoid hyperbole. Avoid demonizing half the country. Many people, esp in the white working class, voted for Obama in '08 and '12 and for Trump this year. Bigotry is not a sufficient explanation for that.

    You're from Pittsburgh. I'm sure you know some of those people personally.

    Clinton '16 finished worse than Obama '12 among every ethnic group, including Hispanics, incredibly.

    We need to stay calm, fight for better policy, fund organizations like the ACLU, regroup, and run better a better candidate next time. Someone with a focused pitch. Someone who resonates with the 99%. We need to win back the Senate and maybe even the House in 2018.

    In conclusion, Bernie 2020.

    • jwz says:

      The fact that you think that calling him a fascist, racist rapist is "unhelpful" makes it no less true.

      As I'm not running for office, I don't need to blow sunshine up the asses of the 27% of the population who voted for this Rapist in Chief. I feel no need to "reach across the isle" to the newly-emboldened white supremacists who feel empowered and vindicated by this piece of shit.