The New York Post
December 13, 2016
Occasionally you come across an idea so startlingly bad you have to pinch yourself.
Bacon-flavored ice cream. An all-Monkees oldies station. And the campaign to urge Republican presidential electors to vote for someone other than Donald Trump.
They’ve even got a name — Hamilton Electors — and a Web site. Their message, taken from “Animal House,” is that “it’s not over.” Trump hasn’t been officially elected, and won’t be until the electors meet in each state next Monday. We might have thought we were voting for Trump or for Hillary, but we were really voting for a set of electors in each state who were pledged to vote for one or the other candidate. That’s what the Framers gave us, in Art. II of the Constitution.
Big deal, one might think, if all the electors vote like automatons for the candidate they’re pledged to support. Over 58 presidential elections since 1788, fewer than 160 electors failed to vote as they promised, and only six in the last 50 years. People ordinarily perform their promises, and for electors party loyalty supplies a further motive to do so. In addition, political parties extract a pledge that electors vote as promised, and in half the states the so-called “faithless elector” is subject to criminal sanctions if he fails to do so.
So what’s different this time? It’s not that the president-elect lost the “popular vote.” That’s happened four times before, most recently in 2000. It’s that Trump wasn’t supposed to win.
Now, it’s true that while electors might have turned into automatons over the years, that wasn’t how the Framers saw them. They expected the electors to exercise independent judgment.
But then that doesn’t take us very far. In 1787, when the Framers drafted the Constitution, people in the different states knew little about each other. “Of the affairs of Georgia,” said Virginia’s James Madison, “I know as little as those of Kamskatska.” The voters wouldn’t know much about out-of-state candidates, they thought. But the electors might, and so we might trust them more than the voters.
That’s obviously not true today, especially with a public celebrity such as Trump. People who voted for him didn’t need to be instructed about his character by better-informed electors.
As for the electors, they knew all there was to know about Trump’s character before the election. A Republican elector from Texas, Chris Suprun, has announced that he might not vote for Trump. He’s being hailed as a hero by the left, but he’s simply a promise-breaker.
A person with more integrity would’ve announced his change of plans before the election, and not waited until after to discover that, gee, Donald Trump ain’t the most polite of people.
And what of the claim that Hillary got more votes and thus deserves to be elected? The Trump people played “Moneyball” and went looking for votes in states they could turn, and they succeeded brilliantly. Had the rule been that the winner is the fellow who gets the most votes, they’d have spent more time in California. The time to change the rules is before the game starts, not once it’s over.
So the Hamilton Electors people would promote an unfair change in the rules by appealing to faithless promise-breakers. That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is their hypocrisy. They can’t argue that the electors know the candidates better than the voters, and they can’t argue that losing the popular vote somehow disqualifies Trump, because the Framers honestly, truly, really hated democracy. They structured the government in such a way as to muffle majoritarian votes, and Hillary’s winning the popular votes would not count a featherweight in their minds.
What they wanted, instead, is just what we have: an Electoral College that doesn’t simply count votes. It also weighs them, in such a way as to advantage the smaller states. As against nationalists such as Hamilton, who would’ve abolished the state governments if he could.
We live in a federal republic in which each state has the number of electors equal to the number of its senators and representatives. If that gives more voting power to people in Vermont than New York, that’s just what the Framers wanted.
One last thing. If electors can betray their pledges, if they can vote for whomever they want, if the fig leaf of last-minute, disputed rumors about Russian involvement gives them an excuse, then we’re not living in a democracy.
A plea for faithless electors in the name of democracy is ultimately a betrayal of democracy, and an invitation to chaos and a constitutional crisis of the kind we’ve not seen since the Civil War.
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