Portrait of founding father Alexander Hamilton

Faithless Electors 2016: Hamilton Electors Are Playing A Dangerous Game

After Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote by more than 2.6 million votes, it would be fair to assume that if the Electoral College were planning a coup, she would be the one to benefit. However, it seems that this is not the case. Instead, a group of at least eight faithless Democratic electors have taken it upon themselves to choose an entirely new candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Calling themselves the “Hamilton Electors,” this group, led by several Colorado electors, feel that they are qualified to overturn millions of votes to install a candidate more to their taste.

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich speaks to supporters
[Image by Juli Hansen/Shutterstock]

The faithless Hamilton Electors feel that Kasich is more acceptable than Donald Trump, who despite losing the popular vote, won 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232. In a statement to Politico, Colorado elector Micheal Baca explained why he felt that Kasich was a suitable alternative to Trump.

“Many Electors are saying that Gov. John Kasich would be best for our country. A consensus is beginning to form that Gov. Kasich would be best positioned to unite America.”

In an editorial for the New York Times on Monday, Christopher Supren, the first Republican faithless elector to join the Hamilton Electors, explains why he believes that he has the right to overturn millions of votes.

“The election of the next president is not yet a done deal. Electors of conscience can still do the right thing for the good of the country. Presidential electors have the legal right and a constitutional duty to vote their conscience. I believe electors should unify behind a Republican alternative, an honorable and qualified man or woman such as Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. I pray my fellow electors will do their job and join with me in discovering who that person should be.”

Over the next four years, reforming the Electoral College is clearly a conversation that needs to happen. In 2016, both candidates campaigned knowing that winning the popular vote didn’t necessary mean winning the election, and campaign strategies were based on that knowledge. Without the Electoral College, for example, campaigns would mostly ignore smaller, less populated states for larger, more populated states like California, New York, and Florida. Because of the Electoral College, votes from smaller states do tend to carry slightly more weight than votes from more densely populated states. This allows less populated states more equal participation in the actual election process than they would likely get otherwise, but it also violates the idea that all votes are equal.

However, the bigger problem with the Electoral College is the winner-take-all system. California, for example, has a total of 55 electoral college votes. According to the New York Times, Trump won about 33 percent of California voters. However, with a winner-take-all system, these votes are not allocated proportionally. Instead, in all states except Nebraska and Maine, whoever receives the most votes per state wins all the electoral college votes from that state. In this case, Clinton received all of California’s 55 electoral college votes. In Maine, on the other hand, although Clinton again won the overall statewide vote, Trump won the 2nd Congressional District, so he was awarded one of Maine’s four electoral college votes.

The winner-take-all system is not mandated by the Constitution. Both arguments for and against faithless electors in 2016 do have merit. It’s both unfair to the candidates to change the rules after the votes have been cast, and it’s unfair to the voters that states effectively erase thousands of votes using the winner-take-all system. However, whichever way you look at it, both of these complaints pale in comparison to a handful of faithless Hamilton Electors attempting to install a candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot.

Although many of the 538 electors are not bound to vote for the candidate chosen by their state, faithless electors are rare and have never affected the outcome of an election. This fact alone is enough to advocate for reforming the Electoral College. The idea of electors who meet in state capitals to cast votes more than a month after the election has been decided is an outdated concept. Technically, while voters elect the Electoral College electors, who in turn cast votes for their state’s chosen candidate, in reality, the electors themselves are generally unknown by the public. The names of the electors do not appear on the ballot, and votes are cast for the presidential candidate, not some unfamiliar party insider with the power to go rogue.

In 2016, we have technology that allows us to communicate instantly. Baring irregularities or recounts, the electoral college votes can be cast directly by the people of each state based on the voting results immediately after being counted. If we intend to reform the Electoral College in the future, faithless electors would be a good place to start.

While it’s highly unlikely that the faithless Hamilton Electors will succeed in their attempt to install a candidate of their choosing, this scheme highlights the absurdity of giving electors the power to vote their conscience. In a year marked by the increasing willingness of the public to take to the streets in protest, overturning the election results for someone that a handful of faithless electors have deemed to be more acceptable is a dangerous and undemocratic game to play. While there is room to debate whether or not an elector has the right to defect to Clinton based on the popular vote, should faithless Hamilton Electors succeed in an attempt to install an entirely new candidate, it would unarguably set a very troubling precedent.

[Featured Image by John Trumbull/Wikipedia Public Domain]