An (Electoral) College Education

It's not about being fair...

Tomorrow, December 19th, in a somewhat mysterious process, a group of 'electors' will officially determine the next president of the United States. Much has been said about the Electoral College recently, and it has been hailed by some as a cleverly designed institution that guarantees a balance of power.

Nothing could be more erroneous.

It's true that the framers of the U.S. Constitution were very concerned with maintaining a balance of power. They were especially concerned with populist minorities, which they liked to call 'factions', and they tried to find ways to subvert the power of these factions. But the Electoral College was never one of the strategies to do so.

I'll leave it to you to find the arguments circulating in favor of the Electoral College, but I will make a few points about the most common arguments:

- There is no provision that says the electors from a state must vote all-or-none for one candidate, and in fact two states split their electors in proportion to the state's
popular vote. The Electoral College doesn't save poor little Delaware from big bad New York.

- At the time that the Constitution was being written, it was not possible to imagine a two party system. In fact, despite all appearances, we do
not have a two party system (we do de facto, but not de jure). That each state elects a slate of Republican or Democratic electors is a tradition, not a legality. In fact, electors are only honor and tradition bound to vote for their party's candidate.

- Neither was the U.S. anywhere near as large as it is now and population distribution, while not even, was not as lopsided as it has become. The framers of the Constitution were decidedly unconcerned about the outsized effect that California might have on the election, because California was not a part of the United States at the time. Anyway, do a little math and you'll see that the Electoral College doesn't really ameliorate any such problems.

- The idea of a popular vote for president was
very popular among many of the framers. A popular vote would actually make 'every vote count'.

So why do we have the Electoral College?

Because it preserved the 3/5ths Compromise. This sullen bit of American history granted slave states the ability to claim each (nonvoting) slave as 3/5ths of a person in determining the number of representatives to congress. That gave Southern - slave - states additional voting power in the legislature, and they wanted to preserve that when it came to choosing the president.

The number of electors from each state is composed of the number of representatives plus the two senators. That gave slave states an advantage in choosing the president, since it inflated their populations to include slaves (at least 3/5ths of them). They wouldn't ratify the Constitution without the Electoral College.

Astrology, you say?

The Electoral College will vote at a very precarious moment, when Mercury has stationed to retrograde, Mars has entered the sign of Pisces, and Pluto climbs through the middle of Capricorn.

There has been much talk about the possibility of some Republican electors defecting and voting for Clinton, who widely won the popular vote. But in reality, it's a no-win situation.

If Republican electors defected and voted for Clinton, Trump's supporters would cry foul, having had their greatest fears of elitist government apparently confirmed. The consequences could be extreme, and very long-lasting.

If the Electoral College votes as it traditionally has, more than two million voting Americans will feel like they have lost power thanks to an antiquated and unfair system. Cries of 'not my president' could be extreme, and very long-lasting.

We've set up the perfect no-win situation - us and Mercury and Pluto (Mars is helping out). There's no need to predict the outcome because no matter what happens, something has to change. That's going to be very scary, because what has to change runs to the very heart of the system we've relied on to keep the country afloat. It will be like changing rudders in the midst of a storm - as dangerous as it is necessary.