I Supported the Electoral College Until It Became a Deeply Flawed and Pointless Institution

The Electoral College has concluded its work and, with only six electors casting ballots against their designated candidates, Donald Trump will be the next president. 

I’m not a praying man or religious in any way, but God help us all.

Of course we shouldn’t discount the odds of the aforementioned resignation between now and the inauguration, given how literally everything in this election season has been grossly abnormal, including Trump himself. But in terms of electors casting ballots in line with Hillary Clinton’s national popular vote victory, there was never a real chance of it happening.

While I cautiously supported the idea of coaxing a bank of faithless electors away from voting for Trump, my support as a pragmatist and political traditionalist has been tempered by three major concerns:

1) If you’ve been following my election coverage, you’ve seen more than a few articles about how Trump and the GOP are actively destroying our political institutions and traditions — everything from rejecting presidential behavior to conducting the transition from Trump Tower to spreading evidence-free rumors about millions of illegal votes cast, and so forth. The left, likewise, has been loudly villifying the departure from normalcy and institutions, including the popularization of the hashtag #ThisIsNotNormal. And yet we’re calling for one of the most powerful (yet mostly ceremonial institutions), the Electoral College, to act in a way that’s previously unheard of.

2) There’s a very high probability now for the Republicans to borrow the left’s Electoral College protest and to weaponize it. We can expect the next Democratic president-elect — indeed the next several — to face a fierce GOP effort to overturn the election by hitting the electors with accusations far less earth-shattering than the ones aimed at Trump. Whereas the left is rightfully pointing to the intelligence community’s determination that Russia hijacked the election in support of Trump, as well as to Trump’s breathtaking incompetence and dangerously erratic behavior, the Republicans will exploit far lesser charges as a reason to flip Democratic electors next time around. The trend, from this point forward, will be to game the electors every single time. Or, at least, most of the time.

3) The biggest risk in the left’s effort to flip the electoral vote is that it’d fail to pick up enough momentum and Hillary would lose more electoral votes in the process, augmenting Trump’s already exaggerated perception of victory and further emboldening his legion of trolls. This appears to have come true. It turns out, Hillary lost four electors and Trump only lost two.

Don’t get me wrong. This is one of those occasions when the electors should have, without prompting, fulfilled Alexander Hamilton’s mandate. Short of that, it’s become abundantly obvious that the Electoral College has outlived its usefulness. There’s no legitimate reason for it to exist if it’s not going to intervene in an age when despots and cynical populists are elevated via technologies the founders never could’ve anticipated.

There’s one remaining mission of the Electoral College that’s hardly been addressed during the current fracas: to make sure campaigns aren’t limited to big cities and heavily populated states where the popular vote is most ripe for the picking. What we’ve seen, though, even with the Electoral College, are political campaigns that are limited to just 26 percent of the nation:

Eight states where Hillary held rallies:

  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Michigan
  • Arizona

12 states where Trump held rallies:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

In other words, even with the Electoral College and its secondary goal of allegedly spreading campaigns more broadly nationwide, both candidates combined only held rallies in around 13 states. Given how there are many more big cities than just 13, not including populated suburbs, it’s more likely that a direct popular vote, without the Electoral College’s redundancy, could actually force the candidates into more states.

And finally, the Electoral College system has, for the second time in five elections undermined the popular vote. We can only label this as a major malfunction with the system. This time, given Hillary’s popular vote margin, it was an egregious refutation of the will of the people. Obviously, the current system is deeply flawed and anachronistic.

On more than a few occasions, I’ve spoken out in support of the Electoral College (here, for example). But it’s always been from the perspective of blocking would-be tyrants from rising to power on the backs of voters susceptible to populist whimsy. So, in my own way as a former Electoral College supporter, I’m pulling a Nixon-to-China move here and retracting my support. There’s simply no substantive purpose for the Electoral College any more, and despite my continued reliance upon tradition and institutions, this one has proved to be utterly useless.

Yes, I agree with Donald Trump, who wrote in 2012:

When he’s right, he’s right.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.