Home / General / The stupidity of the electoral college, part infinity

The stupidity of the electoral college, part infinity


After yesterday’s embarrassment, it’d be nice to think we can just accept the obvious and deep moral and political idiocy of the “Hamilton electors” movement, accept it for what is was (essentially, a strategy to avoid facing reality for a few more weeks) and move forward. As Mark Stern observed yesterday, it’s important to keep in mind that The Federalist Papers are at once a great work of political theory and an at times quite cynical exercise in political propaganda, and some essays are much more one than the other, and #68 obviously leans to the propaganda side. Hamilton is too smart to not be aware of the glaring, obvious flaw in the logic: We’re in the greatest danger of electing someone dangerously unfit during moments of hyperpartisanship, when one party is captured by the demagogue. Since the electors will be selected by virtue of their loyalty to that party, they’re hardly likely to be the kind of people capable or likely to recognize the demagogue as such, in an actionable way, either because they’re under the demagogue’s spell, or because they’ve convinced themselves the other side is always worse. During less partisan times, of course, the obviously dangerous and unfit demagogue capturing a party will more likely dealt with by ordinary means; the voters will simply vote for the other party.

But since this is 2016, the fallout could be far worse. The following chain of events seems at least plausible going forward:

1. Washington fines the faithless electors, in accordance with state law. (Satiacum, at least, is practically begging them to do it. The other three were at least pretending to engage in some sort of Machiavellian strategery; he’s been telling anyone who’ll listen that Clinton will never get his vote, even if it’s the 270th one, for months.)

2. This provides a test case for faithless elector laws, and they are ruled unconstitutional. (This would hardly be a stretch; it’s a perfectly plausible and perhaps the most straightforward way to read the relevant constitutional language.)

3. By taking away a disincentive, faithless electors become a greater threat going forward.

4. This threat is, in the present political climate, asymmetrical, because for whatever reason, party activists on the Democratic side are more prone to approach through the lens of intra-party disputes, and be driven into madness by contested primaries.

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