Today I heard an interview with the only living “faithless” elector who has not preserved his anonymity. He seems a nice man and principled, but in fact he is a traitor to our democratic ideals who insulted the people who paid him his stipend. But he will never be punished because what he did is not illegal. I bring this up to show that the Electoral College is not an anachronism but a travesty and as long as we keep it, we are fooling ourselves when we call ourselves a free people.
He was an elector in 1976 in the election that pitted Gerald Ford against Jimmy Carter. Earlier he worked in the primary campaign of Ronald Reagan and was a strong Right to Life supporter. When his state voted for Carter, he was within his rights—as we weirdly conceive them in the US—to vote for Ford. He didn’t. He voted for Reagan, a candidate who was not on the ballot and whom the people of his state had rejected. Instead of representing them, he wasted his vote on a vain personal whim.
His duty, as conceived by Alexander Hamilton, was to debate with the other electors and among them choose the proper candidate. He didn’t. His duty, as conceived by his party and the voters, was to vote for the candidate the voters of his state chose. He didn’t. He indulged himself in a revolution of one, which is the act of a traitor. Whom did he represent? Why should his vote mean more than not only all the votes of the people who chose the candidate who won his state, but of all the voters of his state put together? No one sent him there to protest; they sent him to do his job. He didn’t.
But he did show what a sham the College is. Some say that we do not vote for the most popular candidate in the country, but for the most popular candidate in each state. Of course that is nonsense. If that were the case, no one would bother tallying up or publishing the results of the popular election.
More technically, they would say that we were not voting for candidates at all but for electors who will vote for us. That’s why the traitor in Washington in 1976 is an important case. He did not do the will of the people; he was not bound by the will of the people. He was a law unto himself. A king. A petty tyrant. Though ironically, tyranny was the reason we had a revolution in the first place.
On Election Day, when voters went into the voting booth, there were no electors on the ballot. There were candidates, Clinton and Trump. Was the ballot a fraud? If so, then the election should be nullified and the actual candidates put on the ballot. Or, since electors are never on the ballot, all the elections were frauds. Except those where the electoral vote coincided the popular vote. See the popular vote does matter. That’s why they count it.
We are often reminded, usually by Republicans, usually when they are winning, almost always with a smaller share of the vote that the Democrats, that we do not live in a democracy. This is technically true, although if you explained that to the average person he or she would react with angry indignation. People think they live in a democracy. They believe in democracy. One person, one vote. Everyone equal before the law. What the Republicans are referring to is our system of representation where we vote for Congresspeople and Senators who make our laws for us. But Congresspeople and Senators are responsible to their constituents. Electors are not.* They are all but anonymous, even invisible. And they are the most powerful people in the world.
*In some states the electors are bound by law to vote for the winner of the State’s popular vote, but if they don’t they are only penalized by a fine or imprisonment; their votes are not flipped. Who wouldn’t spend a weekend in jail or pay a thousand dollars to sway an election?