Faithless Elector Watch: Post-Game Wrap-Up

Chatterbox predicted that at least one elector would be faithless. He was right. Barbara Lett-Simmons, an elector from the District of Columbia, abstained in yesterday’s Electoral College vote. Unfortunately, because Lett-Simmons was a Gore elector, the net result was to make it necessary for four Bush electors to flip to hand the presidency to Gore. (Two faithless Bush electors would still have tossed the race into the House.) That didn’t happen. In fact, Lett-Simmons was this year’s only faithless elector. She abstained in order to protest D.C.’s congressional disenfranchisement, a gesture comparable to protesting a famine by going on a hunger strike.

Readers may wonder why Chatterbox, having previously noted (here and here) Lett-Simmons’ plans to go faithless, failed to revise his calculations in advance of the balloting. Answer: Chatterbox didn’t really believe Lett-Simmons would go through with it, given the possible stakes for her candidate. (“I would never do anything that would cause George Bush to have the presidency,” she told Chatterbox on Nov. 20.) But she did. Ironists will note that Chatterbox himself (a resident of the District) was among the thousands of voters who were partially disenfranchised by Lett-Simmons’ protest.

Chatterbox said there was an “about even” chance the electors would put the presidential race in the House and a 30 percent chance they would put Gore in the White House. Please note that Chatterbox never said either of these outcomes was more probable than not. Anyway, neither occurred.

Dismayingly, the conventional wisdom seems to be hardening that there will be no serious movement to amend the Constitution and ditch the Electoral College. (Click here to read the New York Times’ reactionary editorial on the subject.) A cynic might conclude this has something to do with the fact that, under the Electoral College, New York state enjoys nearly twice the voting power that Montana does. (As Chatterbox has noted before, because of winner-take-all, the Electoral College benefits big states more than it benefits little ones. Click here to read a good American Prospect piece about this by Michael Nelson.) More likely, the Times is too bored by the general subject to even consider this angle. One person who seems certain to become aware of New York’s advantage is Hillary Clinton. When she does, she’ll probably lose interest in Electoral College reform, too. Still, Chatterbox thinks it’s possible for Electoral College abolitionists (or reformers like Arthur Schlesinger Jr.) to get a constitutional-amendment movement going by forging a coalition between the medium-sized states (which really get screwed by the Electoral College) and the smaller states (which, though they benefit from the Electoral College, might be appealed to based on resentment of the big-state advantage). Remember, until about 20 years ago, when the Equal Rights Amendment went south, amending the Constitution, far from being thought of as impossible or wildly irresponsible, was a fairly common activity. Chatterbox continues to think that when a presidential candidate wins the popular vote by 540,539 ballots (that’s the latest count), he ought to live in the White House.