Washington’s “faithless electors” turned the electoral college into a joke, but they also spotlighted the need for reform.
The Electoral College is an antiquated, confusing way to elect a president and is due for a makeover. On Monday, Washington’s “faithless electors” turned it into somewhat of a joke.
Four of Washington’s 12 electors turned their backs on the will of the state’s 3.2 million voters and cast ballots for someone other than Hillary Clinton, who was entitled to all 12 votes.
The electors had signed an oath to represent the people. Instead, rogue electors staged a personal protest — three cast ballots for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, apparently hoping to incite an electoral coup against Donald Trump. Elector Robert Satiacum cast a ballot for Faith Spotted Eagle, a North Dakota pipeline protester who was not on anyone’s list of presidential candidates.
It is true that the Electoral College was set up to be a check on demagogues and foreign agents in the White House. And Donald Trump’s election did inspire protests on Monday.
But the faithless electors weren’t even close to being effective. Nationwide, just seven of the 538 electors went rogue, and more than half were sitting in Olympia on Monday.
In all, the incident was an embarrassing showing for Washington’s Democratic Party, which was responsible for seating electors because Clinton won the state general election. The party also refused to recognize the results of a statewide primary and this year bungled management of its caucuses. And now this.
If the rogue electors accomplished anything, they showed that the Electoral College is outdated. Two of the last four presidential elections ended with a president who lost the national popular vote — Trump lost by a historic 2.8 million votes, or 2.1 percent of the electorate. Reform is in order.
A place to start is to build on the Electoral College, which is enshrined in the Constitution and would be difficult to toss entirely. Instead, it should reflect the national popular vote.
Washington’s Legislature in 2009 joined a reform effort called the National Popular Vote interstate compact; 10 states and District of Columbia have signed on, with a total of 165 votes. If more states join and the pledged tally reaches 270 Electoral College votes — the margin to elect a president — the Electoral College would in effect become a proxy for the national popular vote.
That reform would change how presidential campaigns are run. Currently, inordinate attention goes to a handful of swing states. Washington is treated like an ATM for presidential campaigns, with rare public campaign stops. The reform would also reduce the odds that a president is elected based on just a few hundred votes in, say, Florida.
The failed coup by Washington’s electors was a bad idea because it adds to the populist cynicism of a “rigged system.” The national popular vote is cleaner, simpler outcome. Let’s not repeat this debacle four years from now.