Danny De Gracia: Keep The Electoral College The Way It Is - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Some people are unhappy with the notion of “faithless electors.” But Hawaii lawmakers should not change a thing.

Americans have a love/hate relationship with the Electoral College as the means in which we elect our presidents.

On one hand, the EC gives presidential candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties a somewhat dependable “firewall” of states that they can depend on, reducing their campaigns to economize targeting battleground swing states to win elections.

On the other hand, because electors are chosen at the state level, it is entirely possible that one can, nationally, lose the popular vote but still win with the EC’s votes. Critics of the EC have argued that because the president represents all the nation, a majority of all U.S. voters should be the deciding factor in electing a president. 

Changes in technology, rapid communication, and an increasingly educated population are all reasonable justifications for abolishing the EC, but for better or worse, we’re still stuck with it for the foreseeable future.

And because several elections have become nail-biting close calls in recent years, nothing terrifies partisans more than the possibility that faithless electors – members of the EC that decide to vote for someone other than their party’s winner – could throw a wrench in a presidential race.

Some 30 states have laws against faithless electors, and half of those impose legal penalties for breaking ranks with their party’s candidate slate. Here in Hawaii, an attempt has been made this session to invalidate the votes of faithless electors with the introduction of Senate Bill 141. Heard last week, the general consensus among members of the public who testified on the measure was that faithless electors were a problem that needed to be stopped.

During decision-making, Senate Judiciary chair Karl Rhoads deferred the measure, at least temporarily, pledging to amend the measure with a future proposed draft that revises the bill to adopt uniform guidance for faithless electors. The Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 2010, was submitted to the Senate Judiciary by an individual, and appears to have swayed the committee’s decision.

If you ask me, Rhoads should leave well enough alone and just keep SB 141 deferred indefinitely, killing it by silence. While the general public and partisan voters may find it reprehensible that electors pledged to vote for a candidate could “go rogue” and vote for someone else, my response is, good – because that is precisely what the EC is designed for.

A Vital Brake On Tyranny

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Introduction to U.S. politics course that was part of our core curriculum had one section taught by a rather humorous professor who used to say, “The Constitution was written by geniuses so that the country can be safely run by idiots.”

We might laugh at that, but the hallmark of any good government is that it should have back up contingencies layered upon additional contingencies so that at every step of the way, mistakes can be remedied, or problems can be undone. 

US Capitol building Congress Senate washington DC. 7 june 2016
The Constitution set up the Electoral College the way it did for a reason, including the idea of electors who might go rogue. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

America’s founders were well-acquainted with the dysfunctional governments of Europe at their time, and saw how both despotic, hubristic government and inflamed, agitated populations could equally jeopardize life and liberty. As result, the Constitution of the United States is loaded with conflicts-by-design to make it difficult for anything to get done quickly – just in case we change our minds.

I call that the power of “not so fast.”

The EC is, or at least was, a vital brake on the path to tyranny. Some of you won’t like this, but the fact of the matter is the original design of the EC was to be informed by the popular vote, but then electors would make the final decision for themselves on who should be president.

The founders were all about deliberative thinking. Unfortunately, partisan politics has corrupted this process with state penalties for faithless electors so that the EC has been hijacked into a rubber stamp.

Some 30 states have laws against faithless electors, and half of those impose legal penalties for breaking ranks with their party’s candidate slate.

Elections can be crazy affairs. The founders never intended for a vile person to win the popular vote and then the rest of the country be stuck with them for four years, just because that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Many times things emerge immediately after an election that cause us to change our perception of a situation or an individual. The EC is supposed to be able to think and vote independently to serve as one last check against being stuck with someone bad.

Now I get it, believe me. Democrats seem to think that everyone needs to fall in line and just vote for their winner, fair and square, because policy differences can be settled later. Republicans talk like all Democrats are out to get them, and that anyone who doesn’t obey “my president” to the letter is a traitor to the United States of America. Both of these perspectives are utterly nuts, and both of these mindsets are precisely what the founders feared.

If you’re an elector, you are duty bound to a higher call to vote your conscience. The fact that the Hawaii State Legislature also has bills this session to allow a write-in vote for candidates is proof that some of us think we should be able to have freedom to break ranks in an election. If that wisdom applies to ordinary voters, it sure as heck should apply to presidential electors.

George Washington, speaking of political parties, said that though they “may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted the to unjust dominion.”

Don’t penalize the phenomena of faithless electors, reward it. We need to keep the option open to dissent, rebel and say “not so fast.” Being disobedient and going against the crowd is precisely what makes us uniquely American.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Who is he EC voter for Hawaii and who put him or her there !If itʻs a secret than how do you get to be so fortunate !Do you need to be a party member to be an EC voter, why !

CFood · 1 month ago

Implied in the 15th Amendment is that the people will have the right to vote.

KohalaBlue · 2 months ago

As taxpayers we spend $150k per student k-12 on a public (government) education to teach future voters about civics and history. Yet studies show over 70% of American adults who came up though this system can not pass the civics and history exam given to foreigners wishing to become naturalized citizens. Has out country really progressed? Either amend the constitution to get rid of the electoral college, or keep it as a final safety net against elected totalitarianism.

Sally · 2 months ago

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