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September 14, 2012 12:10 PM Constitutional Goof

By Jonathan Bernstein

Ah, this one is unfortunately completely unable to be fixed, but it certainly should be.

We see that three GOP (potential) electors are threatening (or perhaps considering is the right word?) a vote for Ron Paul instead of Mitt Romney should Romney win their states — Nevada, Iowa, and Texas. The problem of “faithless” electors is really just a Constitutional flaw. The system, as it evolved almost immediately after the Constitution was adopted, made electors automatic agents of their states, whose job became only to record the result of what happened. Within the system as practiced, there’s no room for electors to have any independent judgement at all. Indeed, if we wanted to rewrite our rulebook to make it conform to what we actually do, in order to avoid “Constitutional hardball” in which the parties have a destabilizing incentive to exploit areas in which the written Constitution doesn’t fully conform to our accepted norms, then I’d certainly support replacing actual electors with simple electoral votes. There’s no good reason at all for the two-step process in which we actually elect humans who then cast electoral votes; we would be better off simply giving the electoral votes to whoever won them based on that state’s rules.

Alas, as I said, this one will not be fixed. It would take a Constitutional amendment, and given how little support there is for the electoral college method of choosing presidents, there’s just no realistic chance that everyone would put aside their differences and pass a minor fix. Nor is it plausible that anyone would care enough to push the idea. I suppose if we ever have a near or actual disaster in which the “correct” candidate loses or almost loses because of faithless electors, that might do the trick, but probably not; after all, the party helped by it would suddenly discover all the virtues of elector autonomy.

My guess is that in the event, this isn’t going to become a problem; if the election is close enough, Ron Paul will personally appeal to these people, and they’ll stay on board. So it’s fun to speculate about, but the far more likely weird scenario is that we’ll get a regular electoral college tie (something that couldn’t happen if the District was admitted as a state but the House remained at 435, by the way). So it’s not as if it’s a desperately needed Constitutional fix. But it is a flaw, and it’s too bad it can’t be corrected.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

Comments

  • Roger Keeling on September 16, 2012 12:02 AM:

    You're right, it would be really hard to fix this. Especially since "fixing" this would BEST be done with an amendment to entirely eliminate the Electoral College.