Herman Furberg is Co-Chair of King’s Politics and a third year history student at King’s. Below he writes that the Electoral College, which will vote on 19th December, must not overturn Donald Trump’s victory in the election, despite calls for electors to do so.
My brother and I often fought when we were younger. Inevitably, one of us would find a way to get hurt, wail loudly and try to pin the blame on the other. But our crocodile tears rarely helped. Instead our parents admonished us with an old Norwegian saying: “er du med på leken, må du tåle steken”. Loosely translated it warns: if you take part in the game you must weather the pain.
Those who say that we should overturn the results of the presidential election by stacking the Electoral College vote this Monday against Mr. Trump should also heed this lesson.
A recent op-ed in the New York Times encouraged electors to drop their commitment to return the winner of the election in their state. Thankfully, faithless Electoral College votes happen to be extremely rare. But even so, encouraging electors to contravene the democratic mandate given to the winner of the election in more than 30 states is wrong. Trump won the election according to a set of established rules. He is the legitimate President-elect of the United States and should not be robbed of that title until his inauguration when he becomes President.
I say this as a person who would much rather have seen Mrs. Clinton in the oval office. In my opinion, Clinton presented a far more appealing platform, but more importantly I was deeply disappointed by much of the rhetoric espoused by Trump and his allies over the course of the campaign.
Of course, I acknowledge that Clinton currently leads in the national popular vote tally by almost 2.9 million votes. She’ll probably win more votes than Mr. Obama did in 2012 and by some estimates she’ll go-on to accrue more votes than any winning President in history (besides Obama in 2008).
But the aforementioned concessions don’t matter. This is about respecting the outcome of the election, which is decided by Electoral College electors in accordance with the popular vote in their respective states. Trump won the election by garnering more votes than Clinton did in 30 states and one congressional district, producing a projected Electoral College vote of 306 to Clinton’s 232. It’s indisputable that Trump won the election according to the rules of the game.
Pick apart the Electoral College all you like – clearly, it’s got its flaws — but you can’t change the system after the votes have been cast. Both parties knew that the outcome of the election would be decided by the Electoral College, not the national popular vote.
It’s also clear that all of the parties structured their campaigns around the Electoral College. The Republicans and Democrats focused their energies on battleground states like Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina in an effort to tick their Electoral College tally over 269. In Clinton’s case, this happened at the expense of supposed “shoo-in” states like Wisconsin, which she ultimately went on to lose. Even in the last weeks of the election, when Democrats in Detroit began calling for additional resources to fight a closer than anticipated race in Michigan, Clinton HQ redirected the incoming volunteers back to Iowa (a state with a slightly larger population than Albania). Evidently Clinton played the same game as Trump, but the difference is she lost.
Even if the election had been decided on the basis of the national popular vote, it’s unclear that Clinton would have won it. The eighteen-month run-up to the election would have been drastically different, as campaign operatives would have required new election strategies. Trump suggested that in this counterfactual he would have campaigned in “[New York] and California” and “won even bigger and more easily”. Braggadocious, yes, but his claims can’t be ruled out completely. The two main candidates barely campaigned in uncontested states like these so we really can’t know how the election would have panned out. But the outcome in the national popular vote would probably have been quite different to that of the real 2016 election.
I agree that the Electoral College is in need of reform. Ensuring a greater proportionality between states’ populations and the number of electors they’re awarded is probably feasible. I’ll concede that it’s not ideal that the winner of the election did not win the national popular vote and it’s unfortunate that this has happened five times in US history. Nevertheless, you can’t change the rules retrospectively if they don’t work in your favour. Both Clinton and Trump partook in an election with the knowledge that the Electoral College would determine the winner.
Trump won and Clinton lost—and that should be final.