Saturday, January 18, 2020

Repairing Our Presidential Elections - Without Making them Worse

Some of us would say that we have been living in a political nightmare since Donald Trump was inaugurated and that if he wins a second term, that nightmare would be orders of magnitude worse.

But there’s an even more scary scenario that could happen, based on a case that the U.S. Supreme Court recently adopted.

Imagine that in November, once again Donald Trump loses the popular vote and even loses the Electoral College to his Democratic opponent by a small margin - say three electoral votes. After the individual states certify their results, the end of the Trump nightmare is not assured. I would not put beyond his cabal to bribe, coerce, or otherwise force three Democratic members of the Electoral College to change their votes and give Trump a second term.

Do you think this is outlandish? I don’t. After all, Trump and his abettors stole a Supreme Court seat from Barack Obama. What’s to prevent them from stealing the presidency? Arguably, his party stole the 2000 election by shutting down the vote counting in Florida.

While some states prohibit “faithless electors”, in other states members of the Electoral College are free to thwart the will of their voters. In the past, some faithless electors have been fined while others have prevailed in court cases. If this nightmare scenario were to come to pass, I have no doubt that today’s Supreme Court would vote in favor of Trump. Their rationale would be in line with their strict interpretation of the Constitution where the Founding Fathers inserted the Electoral College as a bulwark to provide additional judgment on the outcome.

So what’s the solution? Many people have proposed a direct popular vote where the candidate with the most votes wins. But this approach has inherent problems, also.

Given that the popular vote is easier to manipulate than the electoral vote, unscrupulous state officials could jack up the numbers to give their states more influence. Voter suppression would become an even more powerful tool when raw vote totals determine the outcome. 

What’s even more egregious is that a candidate whose support is not universal could win. For example, in a five-way race, a candidate who receives slightly more than twenty percent of the popular vote could conceivably win the presidency.

So if we are to adopt a national popular vote, it should come with safeguards and fairness.

Ranked-choice voting would help ensure that candidates whose policies most align with that of the electorate have a better chance of winning. Federal monitoring of presidential elections is essential to ensure complete and accurate vote counting. Restoration of the Voting Rights Act should be a priority. And as in any election, unless and until we can demonstrate that machine voting is 100% hacker-proof, paper ballots should be mandatory.

By implementing a national popular vote with appropriate safeguards and ranked-choice voting, we can help ensure that the will of the people is heard every four years and it will allow us to sleep better.