New Orleans The Electoral College is meeting. There might be some momentary rumpus and some protests, but this deal is done. Trump’s claim to a landslide is more fake news of course. Counting the totals of 58 elections for president, Trump’s victory will rank as the 47th lowest in the list. His margin of the popular vote will be the 47th lowest of the last 49 elections, since he lost that vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes.
This doesn’t seem like the way a democracy should work, but that is exactly how the founding fathers wanted this to work. They weren’t confused. They, like Trump, wanted to claim we had a democracy, while making sure that the elites could still imbalance the scales. Protecting slavery was part of it as well, especially when it came to the 1850 Compromise.
Reading the outrage of some electors shouting that they didn’t want California and New York to decide the election with their huge populations, but wanted to make sure that Alaska and Vermont were important as well, contains plenty of irony, since the historic compromise that led to the final say and balloting in the Electoral College was intended to make sure that Virginia, the big dog running at the time, was still able to be a kingmaker even as other states were coming in with large populations in the future. A lot of the heavy hitters of the colonial era were of course from Virginia, like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson. Such a deal could be made then because the elites wanted to make sure the rabble didn’t always carry the day and threaten their position and privilege.
The complaint that the Electoral College isn’t fair or democratic is simply a statement of fact. It wasn’t intended to be. It was intended to maintain the status quo and protect the power. Now it’s like a bad smoking habit that no one seems to be able to quit, no matter how bad it is for the country. When the Democrats win, they like it. When the Republicans win, they like it, and having won two elections in recent years while losing the popular vote, they like it a whole heckuva lot.
Having a president who lost the popular vote is not the only flaw of course. The fact that the game is only settled at the Electoral College creates the democratic deformity of assigning disproportionate status to “battleground states,” based on their electoral vote weight. The dominant parties can strategize about where to campaign and spend money on a calculus that assumes “firewall” states that are dependably red or blue, and voters in the battleground states in many ways get to see a real campaign and have their votes count more heavily. Of course to Trump’s credit he proved that the firewalls for the Democrats in the Midwest were paper thin and not to any builder’s code, and he burned right through them. Better for a democracy to have a truly national campaign where all votes are equal.
The reports that there were less than 80 allegations of voter fraud out of more than 137 million votes cast might prove that the US elections are about as fair and square as possible. Some might think this would calm down some of the rush to tighten rules and access, but the Electoral College opportunity for minority parties to win, incentivizes voter suppression, particularly in battleground states, but generally everywhere, in order to depress the popular vote and have a shot at the prize.
There’s no sign of any real effort to ditch the Electoral College, but it has become a bleeding scar on the heart of any claim of an American democracy.