The Electoral College is Defunct if it Can’t Save Our Democracy

Photo credit: Variety.com

Perhaps you weren’t aware, but the Electoral College has not yet voted. Many people think that the Electoral College members vote as soon as all the votes in their state are counted, but in fact they do not meet to vote until December 19th, a full 41 days after the presidential election.

The members of the Electoral College still have the ability to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton. They also have the ability to certify only the President, or only the Vice-President as they are required to cast their votes separately for each position (see: Electoral College Key Dates).

The Electoral College system is actually designed to specifically address our current situation. In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton pens that the Constitution is 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.” The clear meaning of this notation is to call out the Electoral College as our final checks and balance system. It’s meant to stop a situation where a fascist, racist who will definitively destroy the country can rise to power.

If members decided to dissent, or become so called “faithless voters,” there would be very little any political party or entity could do to stop them.  The members of the Electoral College are  mostly anonymous (though they are of course known to the party they have pledged support to), and can only be assessed with a small fine (under $1,000) if they do not vote with the party they are pledged to. In reality the reason these men and women almost never become “faithless voters” is because they are chosen for their loyalty to party over state.  

So how can we fix this? Many people are petitioning for an end to the Electoral College. People want to see the popular vote, become the law of the land, and while this makes very good sense it’s highly unlikely we will see this unnecessary relic dissolve anytime soon.

The true problem seems to lie with the media, American impatience, and our 24-hour news cycle, and can be fixed quiet simply – by not reporting (or “calling” states) until every single vote, from every single state is in. 

On election day news outlets begin predicting winners as early as they possibly can. (I saw some outlets predicting winners before any state votes were counted at all!) East coasters have a distinct advantage as the the first to vote; voters in those states are less likely to be influenced by the reports of other states, but those in Mountain and Pacific time zones have a strong disadvantage. Votes in those states are able to watch the news before the polls have even closed, and see a predicted winner. This inevitably causes some percentage of the population in those states to give up, and not go to the polls. Imagine this: You’re a voter in Oregon and your polls close at 6pm. You get to your polling place and start waiting in line at 5:50pm, and then you check the news. On the east coast it’s 8:50pm. Polls have been closed for over an hour if not more, and news outlets are starting to call winners. You realize that so many people have voted for the candidate you were going to vote for that you give up, or maybe you feel like your vote is now a lost cause since you see so many states being called. 

It takes so much these days just to get people to the polls. When we as Americans are so impatient that we must watch predictions starting at 12pm on the day of an election, we are only hurting ourselves. When we expect the loosing candidate to get on TV and concede on the night we vote, before every single vote is counted, we are only hurting ourselves, and when we call electoral votes before they have even been cast, we are truly upending our democracy.

What we needed in this election is something quiet radical for Americans: patience. If only our culture was more patient the news would not have reported on the election until days later, when every single vote was counted. Then, they would have reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote by over 1 million votes. If this had happened, if the world knew at the time that Hillary had won by this unprecedented margin, she likely would not have conceded the election and might have even contested the results.

The Electoral College is in place to preserve “the sense of the people,” while ensuring that a president is chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” Surely, if the Electoral College was pledged, as should be the case, to the people and not to a political party we would be looking at a much different future today. 

For an interesting article on the topic check out: Hillary’s Victory is Unprecedented

Updated: Another very informative article on the topic The Electoral College Was Meant to Stop Men Like Trump From Becoming President