Can the Electoral College Save the Country From a Fascist Coup?

Maybe. But be careful what you wish for
Written by

Never before in American history has our nation been perched so precariously upon on a cliff.

Last week, the CIA presented lawmakers with a judgment on the 2016 Presidential Election that revealed what some of us long suspected: Russia intervened to strongly influence the outcome of the election, and that many of our lawmakers knew it and chose to withhold this information from voters because they served to benefit from it. And GOP lawmakers got what they wanted, more or less, with Donald Trump limping past the finish line with just enough Electoral College votes in three battleground states—even though Hillary Clinton earned almost 3 million more votes (and still counting) in the popular vote—thanks to a good old push from Vladimir Putin.

Let’s reiterate: A foreign power, one which has a long history of being enemies with the U.S., worked to elect Donald Trump by using cyber attacks and propaganda to undermine front-running candidate Hillary Clinton, actively manipulating our most sacred political process. Putin essentially staged a coup: He wanted to have in power someone he could influence, someone whose policies and appointees served his interests. And our senators and representatives knew about this and decided to suppress this dire information from the rest of the country. And now, less than a week before the electors cast their votes, on December 19, lawmakers seem to have realized the stakes, and have decided it warrants an investigation. So it should come as no surprise that instead of uniting the country against our common foe, Donald Trump, our president-elect, has decided instead to demean our nation’s intelligence agency and is even threatening "political reprisal"  for defecting GOP electors.

It needs to be underlined that the information in this revelatory CIA report is not, nor has it ever been, a partisan issue. What is an issue is saving our democratic nation from being destroyed.

So what can be done to stop a PEOTUS who has acted anything but presidential, announcing he wants to live not in the White House but in Trump Tower in Manhattan? Who tweets his outrage not at the spike in hate crimes since his election or the atrocities in Aleppo but instead on Alec Baldwin’s sendup of him on Saturday Night Live? Who has reportedly refused intelligence briefings? Whose appointment announcements are increasingly more absurd with each passing day—a transition team composed of his children and white nationalists, and cabinet members renowned for their corruption and inexperience and hatemongering: racist, Islamophobic, misogynist, xenophobic people intent on dismantling the very institutions they are appointed to run, from the public-school system to the energy department, health care to the EPA. They’re billionaires who scavenge on taxpayers, corporate loyalists and CEOs with no government experience—and, yes, very close ties to Russia. In the month since the election, Trump has laid out a plan for America that is under no uncertain terms going to make it anything but great, reneging on economic promises on which he’d built his campaign. He has undermined not only the press and the freedoms listed in our First Amendment, but kept a shroud of secrecy around himself. His multiple conflicts of interest around the globe should disqualify him from the presidency, but for loopholes. And should he get passed his Attorney General appointee, a segregationist intent on enforcing further voter suppression and gerrymandering—following the Supreme Court’s dismantling of the Voting Rights Act ensured that States could twist their elections to their own means—then we may suffer his reign of terror for years to come.

Unless we can keep him from getting inaugurated come January 20. Because we have something built into our Constitution for a traitor like Donald Trump. And ironically, it is the very thing that won Trump the election in the first place: the Electoral College.

For the first time in its history, the electors that compose the Electoral College are being called upon to stop a corrupt, populist demagogue under foreign influence from seizing control of the United States.

And they may actually do it. Electors are deflecting, resigning, and giving a lot of thought to their ceremonial rubber-stamping role as more and more near-treasonous material emerges about our president-elect. As of December 13, 29 Electors have sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence demanding the facts on outside interference in the election be released to the Electoral College before their December 19 vote.

Some historical background: The Electoral College is what sets the United States apart from a direct democracy where one person, one vote would elect the president. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wrote it into the Constitution in an effort to prevent any unfit populist from being elected by the people. The Founding Fathers made it explicitly clear that our leader was not to have any reason to put private gain over our country’s wellbeing or be influenced by foreign nations in any way.

For centuries, it has been a ceremonial institution, and several states have enacted laws forbidding electors to go against the winner-take-all model of electoral voting, where each elector places his or her vote for the candidate that won the state as a cog in a democratic wheel. These laws have never been carried out through the courts, however. Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig is also offering free legal services to any elector choosing to defect.

In our unprecedented times, more electors have wavered in their decision to vote for their state’s elected candidate than at any other time in history. It’s a hail-Mary pass, but one the country desperately needs. And one the Founding Fathers foresaw.

We’re dealing with an unimaginable amount of propaganda right now, and the swing from normalcy has been so swift that ordinary citizens cannot keep up. This is a recognized political tactic. This is legitimately how propaganda works. First, lie so often and so much that truth becomes indistinguishable from lie. And don’t just lie about the big things, but about everything. And when the truth is in front of you, contradictions blaringly apparent, act as if everything is normal and anyone calling you on it is just being hysterical. Then shift blame around and move the talking points so that it appears as if you are being attacked for every tiny thing without reason. Finally, the only truth able to be found is to be found on your doorstep. Trust in anyone besides yourself is utterly shaken. This is where we are as a country.

Given all this, the electors themselves have been thrown into the limelight as history makers. One Texas elector, Christopher Suprun, has publicly announced he will not vote for Donald Trump, going against his state, which voted for Trump. Suprun is not a secret Democrat, nor is he one to frivolously cause a fuss. A longtime Republican and responder during 9/11, Suprun states his duty is to his country and he will vote accordingly.

Before him, another Texas elector, Art Sisneros, resigned his position, unable to cast his vote for Trump for Biblical reasons, but unable to find it within himself to go against the pledge he signed to do just that. Sisneros said, “I do not see how Donald Trump is biblically qualified to serve in the office of the presidency … Since I can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and yet have sinfully made a pledge that I would, the best option I see at this time is to resign my position as an elector.”

They are not alone. A set of Democratic electors known as the Hamilton Electors have been pushing for their Republican counterparts to defect to a candidate that will uphold our country’s Constitution. Their goal is to rally up votes on both sides of the aisle for a “moderate” Republican candidate, such as John Kasich, even as the Ohio governor is sitting on the country’s strictest abortion ban and a bill that forbids cities from raising their minimum wages. Kasich has told electors not to cast their votes for him.

Right now, it doesn’t matter whom the electors vote for, so long as it’s not Trump. The idea is to disrupt history a little bit, to make noise, to show that the American people will not take these grave injustices lying down. The goal is to get 37 Republican electors to vote for anyone but Trump, stripping him of his Electoral College win and tossing the decision of who becomes president to the Republican-led House. The American public has been contacting electors by the thousands, imploring them to vote against the president-elect. The petition on Change.org asking electors to vote for Hillary Clinton, who led the popular vote by nearly 3 million, instead of Donald Trump is now the most popular petition in the website’s history with nearly 5 million signatures.

This has moved from an anomaly to a legitimate movement. Which is why we are now living through something we have never seen before, and with good reason. Because Madison and Hamilton set up the Electoral College precisely for a moment in our history when the people elect a demagogue to our highest office.

The moment is now, almost 250 years later. Talk about foresight.

If electors defect, we need to be fully prepared to follow this to its completion. Because if we enact the safety valve of the Electoral College, and they stop this election as it stands, December 19 is not the end of this saga, but the very beginning. Trump’s following will not go quietly into that great night. For if the electors choose to go against Trump, there will need to be a complete overhaul of the Electoral College—it will become the No. 1 issue on America’s agenda, lest we risk the very Constitution and democracy upon which we are built.

If we use the Electoral College as the safety valve it was meant to be, if the electors are somehow persuaded to fulfill their roles as emergency brakes in the voting process, we will have set the precedent for elections in the United States to be meaningless. And once the rules are changed, it’s impossible to go back, so new rules that take into account the future must immediately be put into place.

We are seeing a badly planned version of this play out right now in terms of Trump’s administration picks. Those choices will very likely be rubber-stamped with little fuss because of Senate Democrats and their short-sighted thinking.

Three years ago, the Democratic Senate majority ramrodded legislation through that upended the way Congress approved presidential appointments. Up until then, appointees had to be approved by 60 percent. Now, they only need a simple majority.

Democrats did this at the time because they were frustrated at the Republican lawmakers’ stalling techniques that were gumming up the Obama administration and his appointments. They called it the “nuclear option.” What that did was get rid of one of our crucial checks and balances in the interest of improving our country’s immediate situation. Because the Democrats then left it like that without considering future ramifications, they allowed Trump’s cabinet in a Red Congress to go basically uncontested.

When we undermine our democracy and its rules, we must have another version of those rules at the ready or we risk losing the very tenets upon which our country stands.

Historically speaking, 157 Electors have chosen to go against their party’s choice over our history. It may be worth noting that of the more recent faithless electors, three of them refused to vote for Richard Nixon, who was later impeached. Twenty-one states do not require that electors vote as their state’s popular vote indicates by penalty of law or pledge.

The Electoral College went before the House and Senate for updating 17 times from the 1940s to 1979. Since then, our lawmakers have never broached the topic again, despite the narrow electoral win of George W. Bush over Al Gore, in dispute with the popular vote in 2000.

Meanwhile, ten states and the District of Columbia have long been on board with the National Popular Vote compact, a campaign to reform the Electoral College by state-level actions through an inter-state compact.

The fight in the Electoral College is not necessarily for an immediate result, but instead for a long-term goal. If efforts there, through contacting electors, signing petitions, and calling our lawmakers can flip at least some of the votes, Democrats have much better grounds for changing the system.

Whether or not our electors go rogue this year, it’s time to get that legislation back on the table at a federal level. As soon as we wrench our country back from Russia.

 

Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer who frequently contributes to The Washington Post and Time. You can follow her: @parentwin
More by:
Darlena Cunha