O Come All Ye Faithless Electors

On November 8, 2016, Republican Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States. According to David Wasserman’s analysis, published in the non-partisan Cook Political Report, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton received 61,422,098 popular votes to Trump’s 60,637,350. Many voters are outraged, with the focus of their vexation being the Electoral College. In particular, the harshest critics thereof cite the facts that the Electoral College gives more weight to votes cast in small states; people who disagree with the majority in their state are not represented due to the fact that only Maine and Nebraska award their electoral votes proportionately with the popular vote count whereas the other 48 states use a “winner-take-all” method of distributing their electoral votes and that the system allows the election of a President who does not have the support of a majority of voters, as was the case with John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and George W. Bush, Presidents who received less popular votes than their opponents but won more electoral votes and therefore went on to the White House.

Meanwhile other voters distressed and enraged by the news of Trump’s election have been petitioning electors within the College to choose Hillary Clinton on the basis that she won more popular votes and is better suited to be President than Trump on the basis of her temperament, judgement and experience in government, and to this end, one petition has received nearly four million signatures. Indeed, this would not be an unreasonable request, as Alexander Hamilton, one of the principal conceivers of the Electoral College wrote in Federalist #68:

“THE mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.

It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished (sic) body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made 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. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.”

A map of the U.S. with states with laws against faithless electors colored red (Wikipedia).
A map of the U.S. with states with laws against faithless electors colored red (Wikipedia).

In other words, for all the flaws inherent to the Electoral College and despite people’s criticism thereof, Alexander Hamilton and fellow Electoral College architect James Madison intended that Electors working within the college guard against the election of an ill-tempered, inept demagogue such as Donald Trump. Moreover, not only have numerous electors opted not to cast ballots for candidate for whom they had initially pledged to vote throughout history, but in the months before the 2016 Presidential Election, two electors, one in Texas and one in Georgia, each expressed grave reluctance to cast a vote for Donald Trump.

Although 13 of the 30 states Trump won in the 2016 election — Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Alaska, Wisconsin, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and Florida all have laws barring electors from breaking their vote pledges, the other 17 do not. Though there is no reason for anybody to get their hopes up, the 17 states that allow for faithless electors have 172 electoral votes between them, and some of these states such as Texas, have appreciably-sized double-digit concentrations of electoral votes. The more electors thatmake good their reluctance to vote for Trump, the more likely Hillary will be inaugurated President come January 20, 2017.

Many naysayers have asserted that such a scenario would be impossible. Granted, it would be unprecedented. Then again, for his bigotry, violent misogyny and grossly irresponsible financial dealings, Donald Trump was an unprecedented Presidential Candidate.

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