The effort of many Democrats to reveal their party as one rapidly evolving into an anti-democratic one that will try to take and hold power by divisive, coercive, and extra-legal means continues, so this Comment of the Day is not stale, fortunately, though I am four days late posting it. The discussion regarding the Ethics Alarms post about the Change.org petition to persuade state electors to try to reverse the results of the election was enlightening, and complaining about the Electoral College continue. Much of that is just unethical citizenship seasoned by ignorance. This post, unlike most of the others, made an articulate, measured case that provided useful information. Here is Jim Nevertrump‘s Comment of the Day–I’ll be back briefly for a final comment—on the post, “The Democrats’ Petition To Overturn The Election”
We are at a critical juncture. The choice as to the next leader of the most powerful nation in history could well spell disaster for our collective future, for the future of the globe and the human race. Devastation awaits humanity from either of two crises – we can foreseeably suffer nuclear annihilation on the one hand, or broad environmental decimation on the other. A misstep here is one that we cannot chance. With a miscalculation once made, there’s no recovery. Beyond those two vital dangers, there are enormous questions pertaining to life and death, health and disease, wealth and destitution, power and servitude, crime and punishment. All these are on short fuses, and a wrong turn will inflict suffering on a great many.
On the question of anointing the next president, the book is not closed. The Constitution challenges us to take a good hard look.
The responsibility of electing the next President of the United States is firmly in the hands of the Electors from each of the 50 States. And they can, and they must indeed, make a choice for the good of the Nation, and the good of humanity. They in truth have a free hand and the sober obligation to vote their conscience.
If I may, let me review the workings of U.S. elections that have, to this point, been rather vague to most of us.
The Constitution of the United States dictates that each state select Electors, and each state is to decide the method in which the Electors will be designated. Those Electors will cast their ballots to determine the President of the United States.
Prior to 1804 most states had their State Legislatures pick the State’s Electors. This of course would indirectly reflect the will of the people. The people directly elected their Legislators, and they trusted their Legislators to appoint Electors expressing their interests.
After 1804 more of the States tied their Electors more directly to the results of popular votes. Some States published the list of Electors on the general election ballot and had the people vote for the Electors by district. Increasingly, the States found it easier to have the people across the state vote for President and Vice-President by party. The State would have a set slate of Electors representing each party. State by state, then, the Electors affiliated with the party or candidate winning the popular vote in that State would normally cast their vote for that candidate.
A couple of states maintain an aspect of the district vote in presidential elections. Most however, are winner-take all. All Electors from each state would normally vote for the candidate who got the most votes in their state.
Why the Electoral College in any case? Let’s start with an example. In the election of 1820, William Plumer, was an elector from New Hampshire . He had been United States senator and New Hampshire governor. James Monroe ran for President pretty much unopposed that year under the Democratic-Republican Party. Monroe won all electoral votes, save for Plumer’s. Plumer cast a lone vote for John Quincy Adams, who was not running at the time. What reason did Plumer give? One of the reasons was that Monroe’s Vice-Presidential running mate, Daniel Tompkins, was “grossly intemperate”, not having “that weight of character which his office requires,.”
Why was Plumer in a position to be able to say this? Remember the old adage, “checks and balances”? The Congress passes laws, but it requires a double check. That is, the President must agree and sign the bill before it becomes law. The President appoints Federal judges, including Supreme Court judges, but the Senate is tasked with affirming the appointments.
Likewise, in a very clever move enshrined in the Constitution itself, the individual States can have the people express their preference for President through the ballot box, but the Electoral College must take that expression under advisement and make its judgement as to the most suitable candidate. Granted, some states, through state law, instruct their Electors to vote according to that state’s popular vote, with violations punishable by fine. But that is not a Federal, much less Constitutional requirement.
Checks and balances, check and double check. The people vote, but the Electors have a solemn duty, by the U. S. Constitution to use their own conscience, their own best judgement in the selection of the President.
That’s why William Plumer, in 1804, voted his conscience. And that’s why 157 Electors to date have voted their conscience in fulfilling their duty under the Constitution.
The Federalist Papers were a series of commentaries on the issues surrounding the founding of our Nation, and its Constitution. They include arguments and explanations on various sides of the many issues discussed. The Federalist paper # 68 provides further elucidation on the qualifications for President. It is from March 12, 1788, and was probably written by Alexander Hamilton.
I would like to offer a paraphrase of the relevant discussion from Paper # 68:
The office of the President of the United States is a position of the highest trust. The people should have a hand in the selection of the President (“the sense of the people should operate”).
To those ends, the selection of President should be entrusted to a group of individuals chosen by the people for that specific purpose at that time.
In that way the office of the President will be entrusted to someone who is “in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
The skills of political intrigue and simple popularity may be enough get someone to the high office of a single state, but those would not be sufficient to qualify for the office of President of the United States.
A different, higher level of qualification is required for that distinguished office.
These qualifications must be sufficient to garner the high esteem and confidence of the majority of the Nation. This should assure that the President will always be a person of the highest ability and virtue.
It’s clear, then, that each Elector is assigned a role of some gravity as the final arbiter. The Electoral College is not merely an arcane rubber stamp which introduces rounding errors into the election. The Elector is entrusted with a decision for the good of the nation, not just the interests of the party.
That brings us to the election of 2016. There has been no election where the role of Elector has in more critical. We are expecting that each Elector, as directed by the Constitution, brings a sense of intelligence, wisdom, and sound judgement to his or her decision in selecting the next President of the United States. We are looking to them to be Conscientious Electors!
I’m back. Here is more perspective on the issue, in a Constitutional law professor’s excellent article from 2000. Surprise! Democrats were arguing for faithless electors then, too. The article points out that the Constitution’s understanding of the electors’ roles is of dubious value now, since the Founders did not anticipate the development of political parties. This is one of many reasons I find the appeals to Hamilton’s authority by advocates of this cheat disingenuous.
The professor also notes that the legality and force of what the petition (and Nevertrump) calls for is murky at best, and would likely lead to a protracted court battle. Hey, by any means necessary!
Interestingly—I missed this in 2000—we learn that on November 21, 2000, Al Gore “publicly disavowed any effort to encourage electors to change their vote and he declared that he would not accept such votes.” Good for Al: that was the right thing to do. It would be the right thing for Hillary to do, too.
Don’t hold your breath.