“The failed electoral-college rebellion bodes ill for future elections”

Steven Mazie for the Economist:

The failure of the rebellion will not be more than a footnote to the 2016 presidential election. Yet it may leave an enduring legacy. The campaign waged by Mr Lessig and others encouraged electors to think for themselves rather than feel bound to represent the winning candidate in their states. Thousands of e-mails and hundreds of letters to electors urged them to pick someone—anyone—other than Mr Trump. “You are not cogs”, Mr Lessig beseeched electors. The duty to uphold the elector pledge, he said, is “not your only moral obligation. You also have an obligation to the Constitution. And to your fellow citizens. And to your God. And to yourself.” It is fine to be a rubber stamp in typical election years, Mr Lessig wrote. In 56 presidential elections, “we haven’t needed” electors to exercise “judgment”. But, he implored, “we do now”.

Here we find a mantra among instigators of the failed electoral coup: this election is different. Mr Trump represents a unique threat to the American republic. The electoral college should thumb its nose at democratic laws and norms as an emergency measure to save the union. This time only. When a Trumpian figure is not on the ballot, there will be no need for the electors to take such radical measures to prevent America from sliding into the abyss.

This point contains a deep fallacy. Once the electoral college is untethered from its traditional role as rubber stamp of the state results, there is no way to pin back its power. Mr Lessig and his political allies may not view elections to come as appropriate times for electors to rebel, and they may have excellent reasons for electors to stay even-tempered and dutiful in those contests. But other voices may drown out the law professors’ carefully reasoned appeals. And once the principle is established that electors are self-justifying sources of their own political scruples, the question of when to revolt no longer lies in commentators’ hands. Whether to ratify or to rebel becomes the province of the individual elector. And while it will remain highly unlikely, for various reasons, that dozens of electors will flip their votes in any particular election, the 2016 experience shows that a half-dozen or so is a live possibility, and a concerted effort could easily attract more.

That tantalising fact makes it much more likely that future close elections will be an exercise in elector-courting

(h/t Bainbridge)

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