Conscientious electors — a higher duty
© Greg Nash

Calling Electors “faithless” because they in good conscience cannot vote for the Republican Party’s nominee in this election is a perversion of the original intent of the Electoral College system. Instead, they should be called conscientious Electors.

On Dec. 19, these Electors meet to make a momentous decision whose gravity most did not anticipate. The simple thing would be to rubber stamp the election and not rock the boat. However, this would be to ignore the intent of the Electoral College as put forth by the Founders, who sought to prevent a disastrous presidency. Certainly, if Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE is elected and disaster follows, they will pen memoirs about the Electoral College's failure to prevent it.

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There are foreshadowings but they will be clear only in retrospect. Electors must make their decision on imperfect and incomplete information. When you’re on the tracks and hear a train whistle, do you ignore it? What would you advise a friend who asks, “What should I do? The wedding is next week and he/she isn’t acting right, arguing and fighting all the time. Will it be better after we get married or should I call off the wedding? It would be a big crisis, but is it better to call off a wedding or maybe go through a nightmare divorce?”

For guidance, the Electors should look to the words of the Constitution and Federalist Paper 68 which describes the intent of their role.

Federalist Paper 68 lists reasons for the Electors to choose the President: To reflect the “sense of the people” in judicious deliberation, to guard against someone whose qualifications are merely “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” and, most critically ”to be an obstacle opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption . . . . chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”

There is substantial evidence that Trump may be such a “creature” of a foreign power. All seventeen of our intelligence agencies have identified Russian interference in our election. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) went so far as to say in a secret briefing that Russia’s motive in actions, including hacking Democratic computer systems and releasing information through WikiLeaks, was to elect Trump as President.

Of course Trump and many Republicans denied that there was Russian interference because it would undermine his legitimacy as President. If he becomes President, there is a danger that investigations and evidence and would be thwarted and buried. Republicans are conflicted; they rail against foreign cyber-attacks but are happy with the resulting election victory.

Even if the CIA assertion of motive went too far, intelligence agencies have found substantial evidence that Russia hacked computers and selectively released information and provided fake news stories (propaganda) harmful to Secretary Clinton. They released the Democratic assessments of Trump and his candidacy and they released internal documents that caused the Chair of the Democratic Party to step down on the eve of the Convention. Now, reports are that Vladimir Putin directed the operation.

The Electoral College system is an anachronistic vestige of a deal with the states that allowed slavery before the Civil War. It has been perverted into a rubber stamp of State voting patterns amplified by winner-take-all counting making it vulnerable to this election’s foreign manipulation. It has allowed a swing of some 40,000 votes in three states to negate the voices of a nearly three million popular vote majority Secretary Clinton earned.

No previous election has given such a clear case for the Electoral College to serve as a safety valve by negating foreign intrigue. If it cannot fulfill that function in this election, it is flawed and there is no legitimate reason for its continued existence. It has taken crises for Electoral College systems to be abolished in favor of the popular vote for President in other countries. The prospect of civil unrest should not deter the Electors from following their consciences; it will occur no matter what the outcome.

Our democracy is at its most vulnerable at election times. It is hard to believe that our political system is so feckless that it cannot resist such overt foreign interference in our election to subvert the will of a nearly three million vote majority of voters. Are we so tied up by conflicting interests, precedent, and procedure that we cannot resist what is arguably a foreign coup? It sends the wrong message if the foreign intrigue achieves its desired result. Next election we can expect more of the same. This is a non-partisan issue; Republicans might be the next victims.

The conscientious Electors have two options to take responsibility to protect our democracy by thwarting the “desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils” by denying Trump the 270 required votes: They could cast their votes for Secretary Clinton since she received the majority of the popular vote. That would best reflect the “sense of the people.” Alternatively they could vote for a responsible principled conservative like Governor John Kasich and thereby pass the decision to the House of Representatives. That would allow the decision to be made in the public arena by legislators responsible for their choices rather than the halls of the Kremlin.

Russ May is an individual rights advocate and former legislative attorney.


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