US Elec­toral Col­lege, ar­chaic and unloved, pre­pares to anoint Trump

De­ci­sion to be an­nounced to­day

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: Don­ald Trump’s fiercest crit­ics may be dream­ing of a last-minute re­volt, but the Elec­toral Col­lege, a pe­cu­liarly Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tion, ap­pears near-cer­tain to­day to se­lect the 70-year-old real es­tate mogul as the 45th US pres­i­dent.

Its de­trac­tors-and they are many-have de­nounced an elec­toral sys­tem that flies in the face of the ven­er­ated “one man, one vote” prin­ci­ple, and which per­versely en­cour­ages pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to cam­paign in only a few key states while ig­nor­ing whole swaths of the coun­try. But de­spite the tor­rent of crit­i­cism this method has faced for decades, no re­form at­tempt has ever suc­ceeded.

When Amer­i­can vot­ers cast their bal­lots on Novem­ber 8, they did not in fact di­rectly elect the next oc­cu­pant of the White House. In­stead, they picked 538 “elec­tors” charged with trans­lat­ing their wishes into re­al­ity. Trump won a clear ma­jor­ity of those elec­tors — 306, with 270 needed for elec­tion-de­spite dra­mat­i­cally los­ing the pop­u­lar vote to his Demo­cratic ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

A sim­i­lar sce­nario took place in 2000, when Ge­orge W Bush be­came pres­i­dent even though Demo­crat Al Gore won more pop­u­lar votes. How­ever, the gap is far more dra­matic in 2016, with Clin­ton scor­ing nearly three mil­lion ex­tra votes over Trump.

To­day, elec­tors will con­vene in each of the 50 states, plus the Dis­trict of Columbia, to of­fi­cially des­ig­nate the next pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent. Fol­low­ing an ex­traor­di­nar­ily vit­ri­olic cam­paign, this step in the elec­toral process-nor­mally lit­tle more than a for­mal­ity-has been thrust into the spot­light.

‘Faith­less elec­tors’

His­tor­i­cally, elec­tors only rarely defy the ex­pressed wishes of the ma­jor­ity of vot­ers in their dis­trict. And never have the votes of these “faith­less elec­tors” changed the out­come of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Still, some Democrats-who see a Trump pres­i­dency as pre­sent­ing an ex­is­ten­tial dan­ger to Amer­i­can democ­racy-are cling­ing to the slen­der hope that a few dozen Repub­li­can elec­tors might de­cide not to vote for their party’s pop­ulist leader.

Yet, should that hap­pen, it would be up to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to des­ig­nate the suc­ces­sor to Barack Obama. And Repub­li­cans hold a strong ma­jor­ity there. An on­line pe­ti­tion call­ing on elec­tors to re­ject Trump, has col­lected some five mil­lion sup­port­ers. Hol­ly­wood stars in­clud­ing Martin Sheen (“Pres­i­dent Bart­let” on the pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries “West Wing”) re­cently re­leased a video to goad elec­tors to take that step.

“You have the po­si­tion, the au­thor­ity and the op­por­tu­nity to go down in the books as an Amer­i­can hero who changed the course of his­tory,” the celebri­ties say, ad­dress­ing elec­tors who have been thrust overnight from the shad­ows into the spot­light.

But these ef­forts ap­pear to have al­most no chance of suc­ceed­ing: There is no ev­i­dence that the req­ui­site 37 Repub­li­can elec­tors will de­cide to aban­don Trump. To date, only one of them, Christo­pher Suprum of Texas, has pub­licly an­nounced his in­ten­tion to stage such a re­volt.

The fi­nal re­sult may not be known to­day, as states are given sev­eral days to re­port their num­bers. The Congress will, in any case, an­nounce the name of the of­fi­cial win­ner on Jan­uary 6, two weeks be­fore the next pres­i­dent is to be in­au­gu­rated in a solemn and pomp-filled cer­e­mony out­side the Capi­tol.

A ‘dis­as­ter’ or bit of ‘ge­nius’?

Asked about it at his fi­nal news con­fer­ence of the year be­fore leav­ing for a Hawai­ian va­ca­tion, Barack Obama ac­knowl­edged that the sys­tem was “a ves­tige, it’s a carry-over from an ear­lier vi­sion of how our fed­eral gov­ern­ment was go­ing to work,” and that it could dis­ad­van­tage Democrats.

Still, the out­go­ing pres­i­dent urged his camp to draw needed lessons from their elec­toral fail­ure and de­velop a strat­egy for the fu­ture rather than be­moan­ing the 2016 loss or try­ing to over­turn it. “The truth of the mat­ter is that if we have a strong mes­sage, if we’re speak­ing to what the Amer­i­can peo­ple care about, typ­i­cally, the pop­u­lar vote and the Elec­toral Col­lege vote will align,” he said in a clear al­lu­sion to his own pres­i­den­tial vic­to­ries in 2008 and 2012.

David Pozen, a pro­fes­sor at Columbia Law School, sees at least one sil­ver lin­ing to the in­tense fo­cus on the Elec­toral Col­lege: it will draw at­ten­tion to the ur­gent need for change. “Ei­ther way, the re­newed pub­lic in­ter­est in the Elec­toral Col­lege un­der­scores the need to do away with this an­ti­quated and fun­da­men­tally un­demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion,” he said in an op-ed ar­ti­cle in the New York Times.

In Novem­ber 2000, Hil­lary Clin­ton, then the newly elected Demo­cratic se­na­tor from New York, is­sued a clear call for an elec­toral re­form that would re­sult in di­rect, univer­sal suf­frage.

Trump, for his part, has rad­i­cally changed his stance on the mat­ter in just four years. “The Elec­toral Col­lege is a dis­as­ter for a democ­racy,” he tweeted in Novem­ber 2012. Last month, just days af­ter a vic­tory that seemed to stun even him, he sounded a rather dif­fer­ent note: “The Elec­toral Col­lege is ac­tu­ally ge­nius in that it brings all states, in­clud­ing the smaller ones, into play. Cam­paign­ing is much dif­fer­ent!”

—AFP

GENEVA: A man wear­ing a mask of US elected Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and a toy gun swims in the lake dur­ing the 78th “Coupe de Noel” (Christ­mas cup) swim­ming race in the Lake Geneva yes­ter­day.

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