November 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

This election was rigged!

Contrary to what that headline might imply, I do not agree with Donald Trump's offhand claim that "millions" of fraudulent votes were cast in the November 8 election. (If ever there was a reason to avoid using Twitter, Trump is it.) Nevertheless, one could argue that elections in America are indeed "rigged" in the sense of artificially constraining choices -- but in subtle ways that few people really understand. I'll touch on what I mean below, and leave the detailed explanation for later.

But first I feel obliged to say something about what prompted Trump to tweet about massive voter fraud: The formal request by the Green Party candidate for president Jill Stein, that the vote totals in Wisconsin be thoroughly rechecked because of what some people regard as inconsistent patterns between early voters and those who voted on Election Day. (See the Washington Post.) It is perplexing, because she has no chance of winning, and the only possible change in result would be a victory by Hillary Clinton. But her own candidacy helped Trump to win, so she has only herself to blame for that. To me, the only conceivable motivation for seeking a recount is to undermine the legitimacy of the incoming Trump administration. If so, that represents a fundamental breach of democratic norms, taking the "sore loser" syndrome to a new (and dangerous) level.

But of course, Donald Trump brought this all upon himself by calling into question the election process in the first place, on multiple occasions during the fall campaign.

In my mind, there are two fundamental processes that yield distortions in our national elections: gerrymandering and primary elections. With regard to the former, on February 12, 2015 I wrote, "the electoral process itself is essentially rigged..." Gerrymandering is the means by which the leading party in a given state consolidates its power, making sure that its share of legislative seats significantly exceeds the share of popular votes cast for its candidates. Since most state legislatures are currently controlled by the Republicans, the GOP is ipso facto the source of the problem at this particular time. In my blog post of July 13, I called attention to the reform movement, which I strongly support.

On April 30 this year I wrote, "In fact, the system is "rigged," but it's rigged in favor of the front-runner: Trump!" This referred to the formulas most states use to apportion delegates in primary elections, generally quite biased against candidates that receive fewer popular vots. Since the delegate selection process so strongly rewards the front-runner, Trump was able to amass an almost unbeatable total by the middle of March. Since there is no mechanism for allowing voters to express their second-favorite choices, or their least-favorites choices, Trump's plurality of popular votes translated into an all-but-assured nomination, notwithstanding the strongly negative sentiments towards him, both within the Republican Party and in the general population.

That second point is part of what I was getting at in the letter to the editor I wrote just before the election. As for voter fraud, it probably happens at the local level, but it would be virtually impossible to manipulate the vote tabulations on a large enough scale to tip the balance in multiple states.

Abolish the Electoral College???

Just like in the 2000 election, many people are outraged at Trump's victory in the Electoral College, given that Hillary Clinton (apparently) won nearly two million more votes than he did. So, once again, there are calls to abolish the Electoral College, and once again the widespread ignorance about the fundamental structures and purposes of our system of government are on full display. There was a discussion about this on Doug Mataconis's Facebook page shortly after the election, so I added my two cents:

It baffles me why so many people have such deep scorn for the EC. It was created to give the executive branch a broad constituency separate from that of the legislative branch (strengthening the president vis-a-vis Congress) while maintaining a central role for states (reinforcing the federal structure of the government). This historic role remains vital even today. FWIW, my proposed reform would require a candidate to get at least a majority (not just a plurality) of the nationwide popular vote AND a majority of the states to be declared the winner, or else you go back to the traditional EC method. In this election, Hillary won about 47.8% of the popular vote, and Trump won 30 of the states -- depending on how Michigan and New Hampshire go.

Strangely, Michigan has still not been officially called, although Trump has a clear lead, while New Hampshire went Clinton's way, by a small margin.

There was even a call by someone who wants the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton on the grounds that she won the national popular vote. It is sad that such ideas are taken seriously.