An Electoral College coup would be the real assault on democracy

The real 2016 presidential election is taking place today in statehouses across the country. Members of the Electoral College will come together to meet and formally elect Donald J. Trump the next president of the United States.

Normally, this is a ceremonial event, as the electors formalize the results of the popular election that occurred in November. This year, though, it’s receiving greater attention than usual — and not just because the Electoral College results differed from the national popular vote results for the fifth time in American history. The electors meeting today have been facing immense pressure to renege on the results in their home state and deny Trump the presidency.

Regardless of how one feels about Trump, this radical, last-ditch effort to keep him out of office is an affront to American democratic traditions and ideals. While there have been faithless electors in the past, they’ve largely been symbolic protests of individuals, rather than part of an organized effort to overturn election results.

Essentially, those advocating for a mass defection of Trump electors are trying to change the rules after the fact because they’re disappointed with the result. It’s as if the NFL, after the Patriots defeated the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, retroactively decided that end-zone interceptions were illegal and fined Malcolm Butler for his game-winning interception. As Trump himself correctly pointed out, he would have had a different campaign strategy if there were no Electoral College.

Using the Electoral College to usurp the presidency is not a noble defense of American democracy, but rather a partisan attack on the electoral process itself. It would be akin to the current situation in Gambia, where the longtime president is now rejecting the results of this year’s election that saw him narrowly defeated. That kind of third-world politics has no place in the world’s premier democracy; it would undermine the legitimacy of our entire electoral system.

Activists demonstrate against President-elect Donald Trump outside the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Sunday. Mohammad Khursheed | Reuters

Activists demonstrate against President-elect Donald Trump outside the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Sunday. Mohammad Khursheed | Reuters

As is all too common in politics of late, the effort to keep Trump out of office is rife with hypocrisy. After all, Democrats frequently accuse Republicans of manipulating the democratic process to achieve favorable results. Now that they’ve lost, though, it is Democrats who are brazenly attempting to reverse the outcome of an election after the fact — an even worse affront to fairness than rigging the rules in your favor ahead of time.

Within our system, there are multiple possible avenues to halt rule changes governing elections before they go into effect. You can fight any changes politically or challenge them in court if you feel they’re unconstitutional, either in time for the upcoming election or in preparation for future ones. However, you cannot redo an election after the fact just because you lost.

Moreover, those who are attempting to exploit the Electoral College to reverse the outcome are in essence undermining their own argument. They claim that Trump is an extraordinary threat to our democracy, yet their response is to stage their own assault on our democracy. In essence, by attempting to subvert our electoral system they are engaging in the very shenanigans that they claim Trump is planning.

This long, brutal, difficult presidential election is now over, and it’s time for all of us to focus on a path ahead. It’s time for those who opposed Trump to accept that he’ll be our president, and to focus their opposition to him in a more productive direction. Harebrained schemes to prevent him from taking office or remove him from power are more likely to empower him than to stop him. There are many Americans who are unhappy with the results of this election, but it’s time we all accept it.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.