The Electoral College has finally voted in the way everyone expected — everyone, that is, except the Founding Fathers who designed it.
When the Constitution was being ratified by the states, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist 68 that the Electoral College would be a group of “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station (i.e., the presidency), 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.” Hamilton was imagining a group of political sages unconstrained by political expediency who were electors and nothing else (see U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, paragraph 2).
In other words, electors would be aloof from political constructs like parties. Such a body could ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
Another benefit of the Electoral College system, according to Hamilton, was that it would be a check, to make sure the American people weren’t being deceived by foreign powers meddling in our elections. How, indeed, could Russia (or anyone else) better get its way than by having an admirer in the White House? Trump needn’t be working for them directly — Putin is a master of manipulation, and he knows exactly which of Trump’s buttons to push to get what he wants: namely, a U.S. that turns a blind eye to Russian ambitions. Clinton was not easily goadable, so Russia interfered in our election with the express purpose of electing Donald Trump. Everyone except Donald Trump — Republicans and Democrats — has accepted the evidence presented by our professional intelligence agencies as damning. Putin probably can’t believe his luck.
This is the exact situation that Hamilton foresaw the Electoral College protecting America against — yet the body has utterly failed to act as Hamilton imagined. We now have a president-elect who has never held office of any sort, who near-daily shows his ignorance of and antipathy toward the Constitution. He is a man who, as Hamilton put it, has “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” a polar opposite from his expected president, a “character ... pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” Trump would have made more money by investing in the stock market than by running his businesses; his history of bankruptcies and fraudulent behavior betray a stunning lack of ability. As for virtue, this is a man who not only cheated on his wife but who also bragged about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because of his fame. Virtue he has not. But when it comes to “the little arts of popularity,” such as rallies, and “talents for low intrigue,” such as unsubstantiated Twitter claims and asking Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, well, he has those things in spades.
Our present Electoral College isn’t the one Hamilton envisioned — it’s the exact opposite. Instead of excluding “all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion” to a sitting president, or even to a political party, we have an Electoral College made up of only those people. Our current electors — of both parties — are mere lackeys to their group, bound not by conscience but by affiliation. And in some states, including Utah, they are required by law to be such! Far from being a bulwark against disaster, the Electoral College has become the aider and abetter thereof.
There are two solutions: One, work state by state to remove such restrictive laws, while at the same time fighting to change the rubber-stamp mentality almost all Americans have learned to have about the Electoral College. To be successful, this might require radical change — such as putting the names of actual electors on the ballot, rather than presidential candidates, so people know who they’re actually voting for.
The other solution is the simpler one, at least on paper: Elect the president and vice-president by pure national popular vote. Because this would realistically require a constitutional amendment, it’s almost as far-fetched as option one. But unlike the Electoral College system, other countries have proved that this method can work. And it does have the advantage of making every American’s vote count equally, from the Utah Democrat’s to the California Republican’s. The president is the leader of the entire nation, and should therefore be elected by the whole country, not the bare majority of the swing states.
The Electoral College has failed its final exam, as envisioned by the Founders, by electing Donald Trump. It’s time for America to graduate from this system and into one that treats every American’s vote equally.
Daniel Friend is a member of LDS Dems and the author of "Why More Mormons Should be Democrats."