The Supreme Court has been very busy lately, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. So many rulings, so many rants to write. I’ll never finish.
SCOTUS ruled 9-0 that Washington State can require electors to vote for the candidate they are “supposed to” vote for.
In 2016, three electors who were expected to cast votes for Clinton instead did so for Colin Powell, hoping to inspire electors set to vote for Trump to do likewise. Washington slapped them with thousand dollar fines.
They thought they were doing what the Founding Fathers said they were really supposed to do: namely, rescue the country from making a huge mistake and electing a candidate who shouldn’t be elected. (As Hamilton put it, “a man despotic in his ordinary demeanor.”)
Apart from their aversion to Trump, they also knew he lost the popular vote and felt that grounds for trying to prevent his election.
I think the effort was misguided. I mean, Colin Powell also lost the popular vote by a landslide, by not having campaigned at all. The one person who won the popular vote was the one they were slated to vote for. The idea that enough Republican electors would swing their votes to Colin Powell to cost Trump the election was never realistic. They’d have done just as well swinging their votes to Mickey Mouse.
We know that the electoral college is undemocratic. At last count, there are seven states and the District of Columbia that have 3 electors each, for a total of 24. Their combined population is more than two million less than that of Washington State, which is only allowed 12 electors. When you take the larger population here in Washington into account, our votes each have less than half the impact as the votes in those 7 states and DC.
We know the electoral college is racist. Originally, the electoral college wasn’t expected to elect a president. They were to elect a roster of finalists in elections with multiple candidates, and Congress would choose among them. They were supposed to do so largely free from influence by state legislators. But a two-party system formed and the parties divided deeply along the slave issue, and soon the electoral college was always picking the president. It was convenient that less populous slave states got a bump in the number of electors. It made up for not being allowed to count slaves as full residents for the purpose of apportionment.
It also meant that the popular vote wouldn’t count in a slave state by its absolute numbers, which would of course not include votes by slaves, but would count according to the state’s share of electors. As a block, winner-take-all.
The electoral college was meant to be an elite board of judges who would narrow the choices for president down to a few qualified candidates. They would vote as they saw fit. How do we know that? Because at the outset, electors in most states were selected by the state legislators rather than by popular vote. And they didn’t tell them who to vote for. See above: They set them loose to make recommendations for Congress to choose from.
What the Supreme Court has done is sweep away all the history of the electoral college and all the expectations that the electoral college could save us at the last minute from electing a dictator, based on a theory that the Founding Fathers could have anticipated that all states would hold popular elections to select electors.
I hate to say it, but Clarence Thomas had the best explanation for joining the unanimous vote: The Tenth Amendment grants powers to states not specifically denied them anywhere in the rest of the Constitution.
But what the decision leaves us with is there’s now no reason to have electors at all. Once the popular votes are tabulated and certified, the states can just order their electors to vote accordingly.
One reason the faithless electors have given for bringing the lawsuit was they hoped if they won, the 2020 election could be chaotic, with many other electors acting as they did, free of states’ control, leading to calls for the end of the electoral college.
Can’t we all agree that the electoral college was an absurd idea from the beginning and the only good it has done is highlight the possibility and desirability of direct popular election of the president and vice president, and just get rid of it?
Spare us the machinations.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read more in the July 15-21, 2020 issue.