2016: The Election That Refuses to Die

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In the zombie apocalypse, recounts will be made and elections will be rigged only with respect to the amount of fresh BRAAAAAAAAAINS. (Image Credit: Brian Allen)

We had the 2016 presidential election, which sucked. We talked about why the 2016 election sucked. (Short answer: because the candidates both sucked and half the country made a stupid choice.) We’ve discussed just how much it’s going to suck should what we think what is going to happen actually comes to fruition. Therefore, in contemplating just how profound the suckitude, if you will, will prove, we have put the election behind us and are ready to move on and steel ourselves for the politics of the years to come. Right?

Not so fast. By now, most of us get the gist of what went down but a few weeks ago both in terms of the Electoral College and the popular vote. Concerning the former, which is what counts given our current system, Donald Trump carried Election Night. His 306 electoral votes, ahem, trump Hillary Clinton’s 232, an advantage secured by winning 30 states to his rival’s 20. Conversely, with respect to the latter, Clinton had the better showing; as of this writing, over 125 million votes have been counted, and her tally of 64.8 million bests Trump’s figure of 62.5 million, more than 2 million more. Percentage-wise, it’s still close—Hillary captured about 48.0% of the vote to Trump’s 46.3%—but no matter how you slice it, the woman of 1,000 pantsuits won the popular vote. You can’t take away the historic nature of her nomination as the Democratic Party nominee for President of these United States, and you can’t act as if, to borrow a Trump-ism, Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” in the general election.

These realities of the election seem pretty much ironclad. So what’s the lingering preoccupation with the results, especially on the part of people who supported and/or voted for Hillary? Aren’t they just kidding themselves, living in a state of denial? While on some level this may be the case, to be fair, some of the outcomes of individual states were close contests. Like, really close. In Michigan, for example, Donald Trump captured 16 electoral votes on the strength of a margin of victory of less than 10,000 votes, a difference of only about two-tenths of a percent. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, too, a divide of only about 1% separates who won and who lost, with the victor (Trump) earning 10 or more electoral votes despite the slim advantage. Noting these narrow wins, which would appear to fall within some sort of margin of error, it wouldn’t be outrageous to think that error alone could have swayed the results in one candidate’s favor. Or, perhaps something more nefarious.

If only there were some way to verify whether or not the purported vote totals in key states are accurate, or at least more accurate than previously determined. Oh, wait—there is. It’s called a recount. As in counting again. When the tallies are this close between candidates, it’s not only advisable to effect a re-running of the ballots through the machine, but one might argue it should be necessary. If the results in swing states and other close contests are enough to potentially sway the election, shouldn’t it be incumbent upon the powers-that-be in these jurisdictions to revisit the vote counts for the peace of mind of the electorate as well as their own sense of self-respect for wanting to do their jobs correctly? Suppose a county clerk in one of these states went rogue and inserted the ballots of 20,000 dead people and fictional characters for his or her candidate of choice. If Darth Vader and Kylo Ren voted for Donald Trump in Lancaster County, PA (they totally would vote Trump if given the choice, by the way—you know they would), I, as a voter from this area, would want to know as much. From what we know of history, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that local voting officials might try to game the results coming out of their district.

This last scenario speaks to more than just the possibility of error in the processing of people’s ballots, but in line with the idea of something more “nefarious” happening, electoral fraud occurring within the 2016 election. Now, with all due respect, even during the primary season, reports of fraud and voter disenfranchisement were rampant on the Internet and social media. Anecdotally, I observed a number of Bernie Sanders supporters/political conspiracy theorists indiscriminately hurling around accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its friends in high places were rigging the electoral process in her favor. With yet more due respect, as Wikileaks has helped convey, the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and members of the news media were more than a little chummy with one another, and especially on the part of the DNC, deliberately operated and spoke against the Sanders campaign. Within the specific sphere of influence of primary voting, however, a lot of these reports are, if not unfounded, then otherwise unproven. As much as I might be loath to admit it, Hillary Clinton fairly easily outpaced Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primaries, and even if independent voters were allowed to cast ballots for one of the two in these party primaries (many states did not permit this), Clinton likely still would’ve come out ahead. Of course, we’ll never know for sure what would’ve happened had Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Co. not acted so conspiratorially and/or undeclared voters had been given an authentic voice, but let’s not act as if fraud completely got her the nomination.

With all this in mind, though, let’s also not completely negate the possibility that something underhanded occurred with respect to voting in one or more key regions, and furthermore, that those instrumental in influencing American votes were based outside the United States. While Hillary Clinton and her campaign were awfully quick to throw out the specter of Russia as a deleterious force in our electoral process (that is, while the Russians were likely behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee which led to the Wikileaks DNC E-mail dump, they didn’t coerce the officials represented in those messages to say the disagreeable shit they did), at the same, we shouldn’t consider it impossible that skilled Russian operatives could hack the software used in our voting machines. J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, recently wrote a piece about this very hypothetical scenario.

As Halderman reasons, Russia has already been asserted by multiple government agencies to be behind hacks of the DNC and the E-mail of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, as well as voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois, not to mention the vote-counting infrastructure in Ukraine during its 2014 presidential election, almost causing the wrong winner to be announced completely. What’s more, as Prof. Halderman cites, we’ve been able to hack our own machines. Princeton professor Andrew Appel was able to do it with the help of graduate students—Halderman himself being one of them. J. Alex Halderman is reasonably certain he and his own grad students at Michigan could pull off the same caper, and with numerous states reading ballots using machines with severely-outmoded software, lacking the resources or perhaps the urgency to update what they have, the risk is all the more widespread. The solution, as Halderman and election security experts reason, seems counter-intuitively old-fashioned, but nonetheless may yet prove more effective in deterring fraud: checking the paper trail. To quote the Professor:

I know I may sound like a Luddite for saying so, but most election security experts are with me on this: paper ballots are the best available technology for casting votes. We use two main kinds of paper systems in different parts of the U.S. Either voters fill out a ballot paper that gets scanned into a computer for counting (optical scan voting), or they vote on a computer that counts the vote and prints a record on a piece of paper (called a voter-verifiable paper audit trail). Either way, the paper creates a record of the vote that can’t be later modified by any bugs, misconfiguration, or malicious software that might have infected the machines.

After the election, human beings can examine the paper to make sure the results from the voting machines accurately determined who won. Just as you want the brakes in your car to keep working even if the car’s computer goes haywire, accurate vote counts must remain available even if the machines are malfunctioning or attacked. In both cases, common sense tells us we need some kind of physical backup system. I and other election security experts have been advocating for paper ballots for years, and today, about 70% of American voters live in jurisdictions that keep a paper record of every vote.

To interpret what J. Alex Halderman is saying for my own purposes, maybe voting and the necessity of paper ballots is something with which we shouldn’t f**k around. Additionally, maybe—just maybe—we should check these records in the event of an inquiry, because these matters of choosing a president are kind of a big deal.

So, about this whole idea of a recount now. We know where we might opt for to revisit the tallies for each candidate. We know why it might be prudent to go ahead with such an electoral review. We even know who might be hacking our dadgum machines. How do we make a recount reality? Just ask Jill Stein. Wait, the Green Party presidential candidate? One and the same, reader, one and the same. As someone who voted for Stein in the general election knowing full well she wouldn’t win, it’s vaguely amusing to see opinions of her change now that she has been instrumental in fundraising and otherwise spearheading a campaign for a recount in the pivotal states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. For some voters, opinions aren’t really changing, but rather are being formed in the first place, as there’s a good chance they had no idea Jill Stein was the Green Party representative, or a representative for any party, for that matter. For the Democratic Party voters who dismissed Stein as a lightweight candidate and annoyance as a potential spoiler for Hillary Clinton’s hopes to become the United States’ first female President, many are likely regarding her with a newfound sense of appreciation, and at any rate, probably figure it’s the least she could do after taking votes from their candidate.

But about her supporters and those within the Green Party ranks? Daniel Marans, writing for Huffington Post, helps to map out the tangled web of approval and disapproval that has met Jill Stein in her quest for a three-state recount, and concerning the Green Party, Stein’s choice to challenge results in these states and primarily for the benefit of Democrats, at that, has these Green Partiers, ahem, seeing red. So, what’s got Jill’s critics up in arms? Let’s review the charges, if you will:

1. The recount doesn’t help Green Party in its efforts to build and grow.

Right, although this is the beginning of December, the election just happened, and the window to file a recount is tighter than Chris Christie in skinny jeans. One jurisdiction Marans cites in the article that Green Party brass would rather Jill Stein focus on is Texas, where a Green Party candidate almost captured the 5% of the vote to keep the party on the ballot for the 2018 midterm elections in the state. On one hand, I am sympathetic to the cause of Andrea Merida Cuellar, party co-chair, and others who feel this is an important battle to be fought for the sake of the Green Party’s initiatives and values. On the other hand, however, Stein, as the face of the party, is generating publicity for their movement, even if she happens to be “serving the interests” of Democrats in doing so. In the big picture, Stein may be doing more good for third parties than her supporters otherwise might think.

2. There are more pressing issues facing election integrity in this country.

From a purist’s standpoint, yes, there are serious problems facing the electoral process in the United States. As Kevin Zeese, adviser to Jill Stein’s campaign, notes, issues with voter registration and the prevention of people voting are pressing concerns, the kind that tends to get glossed over in the winner-takes-all format of the Electoral College. Still, Zeese and other like-minded critics behave as if these concerns are the likes of which can be quickly resolved, or that by raising support for a recount, these other pursuits will be done irreparable damage. America’s electoral system is indeed riddled with flaws, but they will not be solved overnight, and it is not as if calls for a recount do not expose additional liabilities of individual state systems.

3. If the recount is not done manually, inherent inadequacies of our electoral system will be not exposed.

It seems kind of silly that a “recount” of the balloting in key states would involve anything other than a by-hand review of the tallies for each candidate, but yet that is what is being contemplated in Wisconsin, for one, where a judge ruled that Jill Stein’s campaign could not compel the state’s 72 counties to actually count their ballots, though Daniel Marans’ Huffington Post piece notes that a majority voluntarily obliged anyhow. Otherwise, though, what would suffice as a recount would be merely re-running the votes through the machines and seeing if anything else comes out. Presumably, this could turn a spotlight on any attempts at computer fraud or external hacking, but it still seems just as likely that this would provide little solace or new information. As far as Stein is concerned, though, as with votes for the Green Party, she’ll probably take what she can get.

4. Depending on the level of Democratic Party involvement in the recount, the integrity of the results might be doubtful.

Merely petitioning for a recount, an act which might benefit Democrats, has raised suspicion among Green Party activists. Throw in the fact that Jill Stein’s representation for the sake of the recount in Michigan, Mark Brewer, was once chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, and you can understand from the appearance of things why independents and party supporters might be upset. Especially in the minds of progressives, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party are particularly trustworthy institutions right now. That said, I think a good part of the antipathy to Stein’s mission for multiple recounts is that she apparently decided to crowd-fund and solicit the recount petitions in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of her own volition—that is, without consulting Green Party leadership. Jill Stein is a bit of a political neophyte still, and it’s very possible she didn’t think she had to let anyone know first. From the gist of Marans’ report, though, Green Party die-hards aren’t real happy with her decision, and this could be the beginning of the end for Stein as the face of the party. It’s never easy to serve in such a role, is it?


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Michigan’s Attorney General, Republican Bill Schuette, would have you believe politics did not play a role in his decision to follow a suit to stop recount efforts in his state. In other words, Santa Claus is real, and money does, in fact, grow on trees. (Photo Credit: Ryan Garza/TNS/Zuma Press)

At this writing, Wisconsin’s recount is ongoing, though Trump supporters have filed a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order in federal court in hopes of bringing it to a stop. Donald Trump’s camp and the Pennsylvania Republican Party have also asked a court to dismiss a recount request in Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead has shrunk from 1% to 0.8% as some of the final votes in some counties have come in. And in Michigan, a request to prevent a recount was issued by—guess who—Donald Trump supporters, but with the state elections board vote ending in a deadlock, the case will proceed later next week unless a forthcoming court order supersedes this result. The common theme with these individual state recounts, viewed through the lens of opposition to them, obviously is that the Trump campaign and his followers really, really don’t want any recounts to occur. The reason behind this is likewise painfully clear: President-Elect Trump has everything to lose from a challenge to the results of the votes already tabulated, having secured enough electoral votes to garner victory. Bested by more than 2 million votes in the popular vote, and with potentially less than a percentage point separating the winner and loser in valuable swing states, there is sufficient reason for concern on his point. Anytime a candidate fails to win a convincing majority, I feel there should be at least some concern that a recount could produce a materially different outcome.

Jill Stein, for her part, has averred that she is asking for a recount with the best intentions. That is, she only wishes to confirm the integrity of the results—not anticipating a meaningful change in the counts already observed—and is not soliciting a review of the tallied ballots to curry favor with the Democratic Party or anything of that nature. Indeed, even with her penchant for conspiracy-theory-type disbelief of what the mainstream media tells us, she is not the one who has cast the most doubt on the veracity of the American electoral process this cycle. No, in his usual baffling, counterproductive style, it is Donald Trump himself who has cast aspersions on the fidelity of the counts thus recorded. As noted, Trump has everything to lose from challenges to the totals in key states, having captured the win with narrow margins in a few of them.

But, lo, it his losing the popular vote which has truly set him off. The self-centered egotist that he is, Trump has built his legacy on the iconography of being a “winner”—of course, with a healthy heaping of helping from his father, as well as his evident ability to lie, cheat and steal his way to greater fortune—such that winning the presidency is not good enough for him, apparently. Indeed, losing the popular vote has stuck in Mr. Trump’s craw, to the extent he has challenged the results in his own grouping of states, and most reprehensibly, says he would have won if not for the “millions of people who voted illegally.” He’s not saying it directly, but you know he’s saying it in a way for his faithful to interpret in such a way: he’s accusing undocumented immigrants of voting for Hillary Clinton. Non-citizens, as we know, are unable to vote in presidential elections, and to wit, election officials and reporting news media outlets have found no evidence that such widespread fraud occurred in the 2016 election. What’s more, to have millions of people voting illegally for the same candidate suggests collusion on the part of Democrats. It’s believable enough for the crackpots among us, but reckless as f**k otherwise. It’s not like this is the first time we’ve heard this charge from the man, either. Even before Election Day, Donald Trump preemptively insinuated the election would be proven as “rigged” if he lost the state of Pennsylvania. He still might, mind you, but why even invite this allegation for a specific state? To your non-supporters, it only makes you seem more suspicious. What can you say, though? Dude’s worse than a sore loser—he’s a sore winner.

Whatever you call him, insinuations of this sort are a dick move on Trump’s part, as the American people’s flagging confidence in politicians and voting doesn’t need any more grease to help it along a downward path. According to this article by Daniel S. Levine on Heavy.com, an estimated 57.9% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. That’s better than half, but still low by international standards. Moreover, according to survey information, even fewer have deep and abiding confidence in the electoral process as a whole. In a Pew Research report authored by researchers Betsy Cooper, Daniel Cox, Rachel Lienesch, and Robert P. Jones and published less than a month before Election Day, 43% of the individuals surveyed said they had great confidence that their vote would be counted accurately, and a significant gap was found between the confidence of intended Clinton voters and Trump supporters—with those riding the Trump Train pulling down the overall average. Donald Trump isn’t just casting a single line in the hopes of eroding public confidence in the electoral process—he’s chumming the water. And a significant portion of Americans, like sharks smelling blood, are eating it up. This would be fine if it were Shark Week, but it’s not, and this country doesn’t need help in fomenting its innermost fears. I mean, if Trump said snakes and spiders were attacking Americans on the regular and thus presented a present danger to the United States, I tend to believe too many of us would have clubs and tissues on hand, ready to bludgeon and squish these creatures in a spirit of bloodlust and wanton destruction. As far as many of us are concerned, it’s a scary time, politically speaking, in this country.

Now that I’ve mentioned sharks and snakes and spiders, you may be dredging up all sorts of personal nightmares, so let’s bring this discussion back to its central thrust. Should we have a recount in crucial swing states? Sure, it couldn’t hurt, and if we are really concerned about pervasive fraud, we should encourage such examinations of the accuracy of the vote, right, Mr. Trump? What does Jill Stein’s involvement in recount efforts mean for the future of the Green Party? I don’t know, but all the pissing and moaning about potentially helping the Democratic Party’s cause seems rather short-sighted. We get it—major parties are not to be trusted—but occasionally, the interests of both parties do coincide, especially when Donald Trump is up to no good. What do we make of Trump’s ranting and raving about millions of people voting illegally? Quite frankly, very little, and once again, it’s upsetting the mainstream media is not more vocal in denouncing his false claims. For an institution like the news media, you would think they would understand the importance of maintaining and bolstering public confidence when they have faced their own difficulties in attracting and keeping customers, but as usual, the lure of short-term ratings numbers are evidently too much to ignore. Finally, where does all this leave us? As with the future of the Green Party, one can’t tell for sure, but one thing is certain: though a winner has been called, the 2016 presidential election is far from over. Unfortunately.

So, Um, Why, Again, Is the Electoral College Still a Thing?

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A poster for C-Span Classroom’s 2016 Electoral College Map, or, “Hey, kids! Let’s learn about how convoluted the Electoral College is!” (Image retrieved from c-spanclassroom.com.)

In case it has yet to dawn on you or you failed to observe my mention of it in my last post, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, but only because he had enough electoral votes. This is to say that although Trump has 290 electoral votes to his credit, and potentially at least 16 more assuming Michigan shakes out in his favor, in terms of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton has the edge by more than 500,000 votes. Considering over 120 million ballots were tallied in this election, that’s a fairly slender margin, but it’s a margin of victory nonetheless. Moreover, if the presidency were decided based on the popular vote as opposed to the jumbled electoral math of fifty states with different relative worth, that would mean Clinton would instead be our forthcoming Commander-in-Chief. But despite the fantasies of many, this is not the case. Barring impeachment or arrest, Donald Trump will be America’s president for no fewer than the next four years following his inauguration.

This raises the obvious question, then: why doesn’t the popular vote decide who wins presidential elections? Putting this another way: who came up with this stupid Electoral College business anyway? The Electoral College, perhaps not necessarily in name but at least in function, was discussed as early as 1787, when the Founding Fathers were deciding as part of the Constitutional Convention how to pick a President of the United States. The Virginia Plan, which served as the basis for much of the Convention, proposed that Congress elect the President. Even then, though, policymakers recognized that leaving such matters exclusively to Congress was a shitty idea. Not only did such a system bypass the popular opinion completely, but it ran the risk of the congressional majority voting merely along party lines (as opposed to more ideological reasons), or that such a voting bloc could be influenced by a foreign government (as opposed to, ahem, serving the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, as it does now). Leaving the decision of who would become President exclusively to voters, meanwhile, also had its unpalatable aspects, especially to the Southern delegation, because slavery might become an issue, and that might open up a whole different can of worms. Not long removed from a revolution which necessitated bloodshed, and with unity a priority, this therefore did not seem like an ideal solution.

Thus, in the spirit of compromise, we got a version of what we know today as the Electoral College, a concession especially appealing to delegates from smaller states who were concerned that without a system that places relative importance on individual votes in lower-population areas (today, for instance, a single vote in Wyoming is worth much more in terms of determining the state’s direction for the Electoral College than a single vote in Texas), big states and cities could vote according to an agenda that ignores the little guy, so to speak. It is in this spirit that we consider attempts to do away with the Electoral College, even as recent as a few decades ago. In 1968, ol’ Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, despite only beating Democratic challenger Hubert Humphrey by about 500,000 votes in the popular vote—less than 1% difference—won the electoral vote by more than 100 votes. This seeming discrepancy was enough to give the public some concern, which, in turn, gave members of Congress cause to strike while the iron is hot and try to implement change. Rep. Emanuel Celler, a Democrat from the state of New York, first introduced proposed legislation by the name House Joint Resolution 681 to call a winner in presidential elections based on the popular vote, as long as a presidential and vice-presidential tandem earned 40% or more of the vote. The measure easily passed the House Judiciary Committee, of which Celler was a member, in April 1969, and cleared the House of Representatives as a whole, too, by a fairly wide margin. The bill even had the support of Nixon, the man who just won the election by so controversial a vote differential.

As we know of Congress, however, there was still one final hurdle to clear on the way to enacting law: the United States Senate. Or as I like to call it, “the place where good bills go to die.” Senate Joint Resolution 1, known as the Bayh-Celler Amendment for its namesake from the House, the aforementioned Emanuel Celler, and its co-sponsor from the Senate, Birch Bayh, Democrat from the proud state of Indiana, was introduced to the Senate at large in 1970 after passing the Senate Judiciary Committee 11 to 6. Whereupon it was quickly filibustered (why the filibuster is a thing, too, is not immediately apparent to me, but this is neither here nor there), besieged by conservatives from both parties, notably those from smaller states who saw the Electoral College as an important bargaining chip so as not to have their power ignored in favor of the bigger, more populous states or the national collective. The measure failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to end the filibuster, and with Richard Nixon opting to go no further to try to persuade his Republican brethren to support getting to the magic number of 67, by the time 1971 rolled around and Congress was open for business, the bill was as good as dead. In short, the Bays-Celler Amendment got fili-busted.

There goes Congress again—standing in the way of progress, am I right? Wait, am I right? Might I actually be missing the big picture in railing against the Electoral College, and sounding like all the sore-loser Democrats/liberals who thought the Electoral College was all fine and dandy until their candidate failed to win? Let’s circle back for a moment. As the corresponding article on Wikipedia so neatly outlines, there are several reasons why proponents of the Electoral College argue for its maintenance. They include:

1. Prevention of an urban-centric victory

OK, so we’ve kind of already beat this idea to death. Those in favor of preserving the electoral system we currently use in the United States believe the Electoral College is a safeguard against presidential candidates drawing votes exclusively from cities and bypassing more rural regions en route to the White House. I tend to think this reason for propping up a method based on somewhat complicated tabulations of electoral votes is overblown, however, in that it overestimates how much of the U.S. population resides in urban locales. One vote counting the same no matter where you come from seems fair, and at any rate, the argument can be made that if certain states or regions feel neglected, it is up to their congressmen, congresswomen and governor(s) to demand better representation on a national level. I’m not sure I necessarily subscribe to this last point, mind you, but I do think this justification for the Electoral College can be argued against.

2. Maintenance of the federal character of the nation

I feel like, to an extent, this is saying #1 in a different way—by giving a minimum number of electoral votes to a less populous state, this enhances the value of each vote alongside the value of a vote in a more populous state, given the winner-take-all paradigm. In turn, since each state’s electoral count matters in the general election, individual states are empowered to make laws on voting and voter enfranchisement—provided, of course, these news laws do not violate existing constitutional principles. I’m admittedly on the fence on this one. I do think there is merit in voters in states like Alaska, Montana, and North and South Dakota feeling as if their vote matters more and that their state’s agenda is not being disregarded. That said, having so many different laws on voting from state to state seems to make things woefully fragmented when the process should be the same for each person casting his or her ballot. As tends to be the case, it’s a fine line to walk between states’ rights and the need for a national consensus.

3. Enhancement of the status of minority groups

I’ll just quote this directly since this is the sum total of this particular argument:

Instead of decreasing the power of minority groups by depressing voter turnout, proponents argue that by making the votes of a given state an all-or-nothing affair, minority groups can provide the critical edge that allows a candidate to win. This encourages candidates to court a wide variety of such minorities and advocacy groups.

I may be oversimplifying, but what this sounds like is an excuse to pander to Asians, blacks, Latinos and other minorities. Not thrilled with this justification, in that event.

4. Encouragement of stability through the two-party system

I’m sorry, but before I even get to explaining this bit, let me preface by saying that by allowing Donald Trump to secure the Republican Party nomination and win the presidency, we’ve kind of turned the notion of “stability” of the two-party system on its head, no?

5. Flexibility if a presidential candidate dies

Gee, um, great?

6. Isolation of election problems

The argument here is that if fraud in significant numbers occurs in one state, its effect on the election can be blunted by the limit of electoral votes that state receives. Then again, in instances like Florida’s need for a recount in 2000, the likes of which were enough to decide an election, the counterargument is that this doesn’t really isolate that state’s problems. Ah, 2000 Presidential Election, will your manifold historical lessons never cease?


If the above defenses of the Electoral College are the best we have to offer, the associated benefits are questionable on their merits alone. Great—we have the Electoral College so we, um, don’t forget farmers in Butte, claim we carry hot sauce in our bags, vote for the lesser of two evils, have a back-up plan in case someone dies, or limit the damage when a given state screws the pooch. In light of the criticisms of this institution, moreover, these merits are even more questionabler, and that’s not even grammatically correct!

Besides, as noted earlier, the seeming fairness of the “one person, one vote” setup should the popular vote prevail, the trappings of the Electoral College are such that 1) candidates will spend inordinate amounts of money and time on “swing states,” 2) because of the winner-take-all nature of deciding states, turnout is discouraged in those states in which a result in favor of one major party is presumed likely, further encouraging candidates to ignore non-swing localities, 3) if fraud and other forms of voter disenfranchisement do occur, it’s harder to know because of the emphasis on electoral votes, 4) American territories like Puerto Rico have no say because they don’t get electoral votes, 5) third parties, who might offer credible alternatives in case both the Democratic Party and Republican Party representatives suck—as in this election—are SOL, and 6) we have to justify graphics and touch-screen maps to plot out possible Election Day scenarios just to see who can or will win. As a voter in the state of New Jersey, I felt and still feel that, beyond voting for down-ticket major-party candidates and specific ballot initiatives, my vote for president was essentially meaningless, since Hillary Clinton was almost certain to take the state. You know, besides the notion Jill Stein wasn’t going to win. It’s the principle of the thing, dammit!

Going back to the notion of proposals to overturn the Electoral College as “loser talk” and criticisms of protests of Donald Trump’s win around the country as mere whining, though I’m understandably biased on each count, I think these challenges are not unfounded. Regarding the former, the Electoral College seems to be, among other things, a vestigial holdover from the formative days of the United States when slavery was widespread and the Founding Fathers, while encouraging democratic principles, seemed intent on limiting the power of the general electorate to do damage in terms of electing terrible political candidates. When some of today’s lawmakers (e.g. Louie Gohmert, Steve King), however, are evidently intent on taking America down an anti-gay, anti-minority and otherwise regressive path, the supremacy of discretion of elected officials over the public, as in the belief that whites are inherently superior to other races, appears unfounded.

Concerning the latter, meanwhile, right, there weren’t Republican protests when Barack Obama was elected. This is an apples-to-oranges comparison, though. Obama ran on a platform of hope and belief in the American spirit. Trump ran on a platform of absent policy goals, fear, hate, ridicule and wanting to go backwards to a mythical time when the United States was “great.” These shows of defiance, such as the symbolic safety pin people have taken to wearing, I believe, are or should not be levied against the democratic process itself, but rather a candidate that made divisiveness a cornerstone of his campaign. In other words, this is a show of solidarity with those groups that stand to be most negatively impacted by President Trump’s policies. Besides, it’s better to let dissenters get their protests out now, rather than do what Republicans have done for the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency: undermine his credibility right down to suggesting he was born in another country. Death by a thousand paper cuts, I know, but it’s still character assassination—and perhaps more insidious for how drawn out the process of chipping away at his legacy has been at the hands of the GOP, often in overstated terms.

Chances are no progress will be made in the foreseeable future on abolishing the Electoral College. After all, our current system achieved its desired result: producing a winner. When the W is all that matters given the winner-take-all electoral format, and when candidates like Donald Trump can evidently say and promise anything to secure enough people’s votes, there arguably won’t be enough impetus for change from either the general public or our appointed lawmakers. Which is a shame, because the Electoral College, like so many potentially unfair American institutions, deserves to be revisited and scrutinized.

All Votes are Final, and Other Notes on the Impending Election

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Don’t regret your vote like Donald Trump regretted coming too close to this eagle. (Image retrieved from mashable.com.)

Mere days before the U.S. presidential election—one that will decide which rich, arrogant white person voters really don’t seem to like gets to be our next Commander-in-Chief—I can’t help but think about another recent vote overseas which garnered a lot of attention. Like with the anticipated margin of victory/defeat in the American general election, the results of this referendum vote were nail-bitingly close. And as is distinctly possible with our choices in the ol’ U-S-of-A, a majority of the participating constituents, as slim as that majority may have been, made a very dumb decision.

By now, you probably realize I am alluding to the so-called Brexit referendum vote in the United Kingdom, in which voters, deceived into believing false promises made by the party about steering 350 million pounds a week to the UK’s National Health Service, or otherwise exploited for their concerns about greater control over the country’s economy and borders, opted for Britain to leave the European Union. The exact mechanics of the United Kingdom’s jettisoning itself from the EU are still being discussed/litigated, in particular, when exactly the change occurs. The extent of the damage, as it likely will bear out, is also up in the air. When the news broke, one specific aspect of the Brexit vote and its immediate aftermath was striking to me. No, not that Boris Johnson looks like the human version of a Muppet, or that Nigel Farage is a weasel-faced liar, though both are indeed applicable.

What struck me is that a good number of UK voters did not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the circumstances behind the referendum vote, or otherwise failed to comprehend exactly what was at stake. In the wake of the bombshell news that the United Kingdom opted to Leave rather than Remain, as this Vox piece by Katie Hicks encapsulates, there was, for many, a quick turn to regret, especially among those who voted to Leave as a sort of “protest vote” while thinking all the while that the Remain side would prevail. The natural response of many hearing this was, “Um, are you f**king kidding me?” Of course, a number of these armchair detractors may not have even voted, so take this criticism for what it’s worth. Perhaps even more confounding, though, after polls had closed following the Brexit vote, Google searches for “What is the EU?” spiked precipitously. The natural response of many was to curl into the fetal position, rock gently back and forth, and weep trying to remember a time when their fellow man or countryman could be trusted to do a lick of research before voting. In these Internet surfers’ defense, I realize the average person’s hours are at a premium, and that many people do not have much time to look things up alongside working and trying to raise a family or whatnot. BUT SERIOUSLY, IF YOU WERE VOTING TO LEAVE THE EU, YOU SHOULD HAVE SOME IDEA OF WHAT THE F**K IT IS. JUST A BIT.

As Samantha Bee quipped about the relationship between Brexit and the state of American politics shortly after the UK’s fateful decision, the parallels between the rise of nationalism in Britain and Trump’s ascendancy to the Republican Party presidential nomination are so obvious a “brain-damaged baboon” could see them. Indeed, the comparisons to be made herein are pretty stark. The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza—decidedly smarter than a brain-damaged baboon, mind you—plotted the similarities between the Brexit movement and a Trumpian undercurrent that has been building largely within white America for some time now. In fact, the strength of Donald Trump’s “anti-establishment” support is such that the undercurrent has since risen to the level of full-on current. Disaffected prospective voters are chanting “Lock her up!” at the mention of “Crooked Hillary” Clinton’s political scandals, alongside the white supremacists feeling perfectly comfortable in, say, punching black protestors at Trump rallies, or burning historically black churches and writing “Vote Trump” on them. You stay classy, racists of Mississippi.

So, what parallels does Cillizza identify? Broadly speaking, he points to three areas of similitude:

Immigration is “out of control”

Obviously, xenophobic sentiment in the United Kingdom has little to do with worry about Mexicans crossing illegally across the border. Such is a uniquely American concern. That said, with migrants from over 20 European Union nations able to move freely across borders, there is at least superficial reason to understand why Team Leave was able to pull off the upset win, as some might see it. It’s the fear of outsiders. The fear of loss of cultural and national identity. The fear something could be taken away. Those same feelings of fear and worry about loss are pervasive among Donald Trump’s supporters, who express genuine enthusiasm about the concept of building a wall at the country’s southern border or favor a ban on Muslims under the vague notion this will keep us safe. Make America Great Again. “Take back control.” Either way, the idea is about going back to a better, more prosperous, simpler time. Such a time may not actually exist, mind you, or at least not as those looking through rose-colored glasses may see things, but you can’t fault voters too much for latching onto a candidate who not only professes to know what is truly ailing the United States, but exactly how to fix it.

Political leaders are “clueless and corrupt”

As Chris Cillizza explains, Brits have had a long-standing issue with rules and standards being dictated to them from European Union headquarters based in Brussels, Belgium. Add to that flagging confidence in pre-Brexit-vote UK prime minister David Cameron, and it’s no wonder the Leave vote had the kind of support it did on this dimension. In the United States, meanwhile, faith in institutions has declined in recent years pretty much across the board, and Congress, for one, is no exception to this rule. Unfortunately, Donald Trump has been given a lot of ammunition in this regard, including but not limited to his political rival, Hillary Clinton, whose various political scandals have dogged her throughout her campaign. It’s worth saying that Trump himself has proven woefully clueless at points in the past year, and umpteen reports have hinted at his own malfeasances. The difference is “the Donald” seems more capable of shrugging off accusations of impropriety, while Hillary’s wrongdoing has stuck to her like glue. This disparity might just be enough to sway the election, at that.

Consequences are “overrated”

Just how bad could a Brexit prove? Even in advance of the referendum vote, as Cillizza notes, experts were warning a break with the EU could not only send the UK into recession, but it could lead to further secession from the European Union, as well as Scotland to just say, “The f**k with ye!” and secede in its own right from the United Kingdom (Scotland, for its part, overwhelmingly voted to Remain, which Donald Trump somewhat infamously failed to recognize after the smoke had cleared). And yet, a majority of voting Brits opted to Leave anyway. Recession, shmecession, am I right?

In terms of Donald Trump’s intended policies—as poorly-defined as they are—his supporters have also damned the potential fallout from his winning the presidency and exacting such measures, defying the predictions of many, myself included. After Trump’s whopper of a speech announcing his intentions to run for President of these United States, I imagined he would find some way to torpedo his campaign, if this didn’t manage to achieve that effect to begin with. Seeing the frustration with establishment politics from the progressive angle, meanwhile, I admittedly underestimated initially just how fed up everyday Americans are with “politics as usual” and the state of affairs in the country today. Chris Cillizza closes his piece on the Brexit-Trump with these thoughts, which sound like a warning more than anything:

We are in the midst of a worldwide sea change regarding how people view themselves, their government and their countries. The Brexit vote and the rise of Trump — while separated by thousands of miles and an ocean — are both manifestations of that change. There will be more.

“There will be more.” Sounds ominous. Like, “there will be blood.” Only Donald Trump is Daniel Plainview. And he’s about to drink all our milkshakes.


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Is this face the epitome of regret, or “Bregret,” as some would term it? Perhaps. At least the man had the decency to resign in disgrace. With Trump, we’d have four years of a disgrace coming into office. (Image retrieved from excelaviation.ie.)

Like I said, I, at first, underestimated just how afraid and angry average Americans are, and how they might be willing to look past what many of Donald Trump’s critics see as detestable incompetence. Not to mention dude’s a first-rate asshole. He lies. He deceives. He cheats. He lies some more. And he belittles, bullies or sues anyone who runs afoul of him—which is not hard to do either because the man’s got the emotional maturity of a second-grader. Yet for all his shortcomings, those who intend to vote for him see a greater danger in letting Hillary Clinton get to the White House. I think an essential element of this is that with Trump, there is at least the perception that what you see is what you get. It may not be true, but by saying so much crazy shit over the past year and change, people get the sense he is being forthright with you—even when he’s off-color or off the mark completely.

With Clinton, though, the name of the game is secrecy, built on a mistrust of the press and a fundamental misunderstanding of the electorate. True, she possesses a vague feminist appeal in that she would become the first female POTUS (her suffragette white pantsuit has also played to female voters), as well as the notion she appears to genuinely care about the rights of women and children in particular. She also has received the support of progressive figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Moore and Robert Reich, who have tried to make it seem as though Hillary is the greatest political candidate to ever grace a ballot—if for no other reason than she would be a vastly more rational leader than Donald J. Trump. If not connecting with voters based on a sense of historical achievement or pragmatism, though, she’s pretty much swinging and missing on an emotional front. Trump at least makes his supporters feel like he cares about the average Joe. With Hillary Clinton, however? She is so far removed emotionally from John and Jane Q. Public it’s scary—and I think the Democrats, in general, are too. To a certain extent, so are establishment Republicans. Going back to the Cillizza article, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were cited as figures who believed Americans would “come to their senses” eventually. They were right, but not in the way they meant it. Americans are coming to their senses—but in the form of realization than neither of the major parties really get why so many of us are pissed off. Especially for Hillary’s and the Democrats’ sake, who have been celebrating her likely inauguration before she started running, it might just take a loss to Donald Trump for that aforementioned “sea change” in global politics to sink in and for the party to make meaningful changes.

The question is, then: what are the odds Trump could actually pull off his own Brexit-like reversal of expectations? As it always seems to be the case, the mainstream media and liberal news publications highlight favorable national polling numbers for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, albeit less favorable than they were, say, a month ago. As we know, though, this is not how presidential elections are decided in this country—electoral votes are tallied on a state-by-state basis with the winner needing to get to 270 votes. And the most recent updates are not exactly good for the would-be Madam President. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight indicates Trump is polling well in key swing states. Moreover, CNN’s most recent electoral map projection puts Clinton two electoral votes short of the necessary 270, with 66 votes up for grab in “battleground” states and blue-leaning states like Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin anything but sure bets. Of course, Hillary Clinton is yet the odds-on favorite to win on November 8, but, to borrow a phrase you will likely hear quite often this coming Tuesday, the race is still “too close to call.”

In other words, Donald Trump could conceivably win this whole g-d thing. Bringing back the conversation full circle, much as people voting Leave in the Brexit referendum vote may have regretted their choice, believing Remain would carry the day, if you’re voting Trump but really thinking Clinton will win, don’t. Just don’t. Also, much in the way people were mystifyingly Googling “What is the EU?” after voting, you need to understand what it as stake if Donald Trump wins. Mark Kleiman, public policy professor at NYU Marron Institute of Public Management, enumerated the “damage” a Trump presidency could entail, either with the stroke of a pen or with the sanction of a Republican-led Congress. Read it. The whole list. If you’re still riding the Trump Train after all these points, that’s fine. But if you don’t understand the scope of who or what you’re voting for prior to casting your ballot, you probably shouldn’t even be voting.

I am likely preaching to the choir with a lot of my sentiments in this piece and in this closing. I realize that. Still, it deserves to be said, and as such, I’ll make my own final plea: don’t vote for Donald Trump. Again, just don’t. This is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Far from it. I’m not voting for her, after all. But I’m not voting for Trump either, because he is clearly the wrong choice. Sure, it’s a free country, and you can vote for whomever you want. Just remember, however, that all votes are final, and that lasting consequences may result whichever way you choose.