Snuffing free choice

Donald Trump, Nov. 6, 2012: “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”

As with so many things, Trump’s position on this changes depending on whether it affects him personally. He stood to gain from the presidential electors system, so he shed his opposition to it like a skin, no matter what it did to the nation.

But he was right the first time.

Here’s our question: If the presidential electors system is so great, why don’t other democracies need it?

President Kennedy once said, “Though we like to think of ourselves as a young country, this is the oldest republic in the world. When the United States was founded there was a king in France, and a czar in Russia, and an emperor in Peking. They have all been wiped away, but the United States has still survived.”

And yet this most mature of democracies clings to a remnant of the founders’ suspicion of the public. Other democracies wonder why a nation with the United States’ distrust of bureaucracy nevertheless lets this clunky mechanism get between voters and their free choice. In 1968, there was an effort by U.S. House members—led by Republican Charles Goodell and Democrat Morris Udall—to circumvent the electors in order to shield the nation from that year’s formidable third party white supremacist candidate. Three British reporters covering that U.S. election wrote of the presidential electors system, “One can well agree—one can hardly deny—that this was a weakness in the Constitution.”

It’s hard to imagine other democracies pitting their regions against each other as we do—Kilkenny against Donegal, or Normandie against Nouvelle-Aquitaine, or New Brunswick against Alberta. But the harmony between administrative jurisdictions that exists in those places is, politicians like Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak believe, not good enough for the United States of America. Here, our politicians thrive on conflict at public expense.

As reported in our news section last week (“Voters’ choice?” June 13), the electors system we now endure was not the invention of the founders, so there is no need to tiptoe around it speaking in whispers as though it were hallowed. Their system has been supplanted by one invented by political parties, who select the electors with little thought in their state party conventions and then bind them to their parties with pledges that prevent them from being the free agents the founders envisioned.

Instead of the distinguished citizens the founders envisioned as electors, they now act solely as party functionaries. Often, as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Robert Jackson and William O. Douglas described them, they are “party lackeys and intellectual nonentities.” They see the interests of their parties as superior to the interests of the nation. And the appointment of a president is in their hands.

Sometimes, as in 2016, they get to vote on who will be president, and Russia in that year had a say in who became president. But thanks to the electors system, the public did not. The public’s voice was snuffed as effectively as a pillow over a face, suffocating free choice to death, and the U.S. ended up with an unelected president, again.