The Electoral College: The Slow Poison That Is Killing American Democracy

This indirect system of electing the American president does not hold water. With extreme political polarization, it becomes a geographic privilege. Above all, it no longer stops a leader like Trump from using it to try to reverse the results of a presidential election.

A majority of Americans could find it tempting to let out a sigh of relief. This Monday, Dec. 14, electors will confirm Joe Biden’s clear victory in the Nov. 3 presidential election. But they would be wrong to rejoice too soon. American democracy is not out of the woods yet. The guerilla warfare that Donald Trump and his accomplices have led to overturn the verdict certified at the polls will have serious political consequences. In the long term, it could undermine the stability of future elections.

Although the judicial system played its role as a counterweight to the White House’s authoritarian drift by rejecting 50 or so unsubstantiated complaints of fraud, the election’s integrity was also saved by a few individuals — Republicans in charge of the electoral process who resisted pressure from the Trump camp and fulfilled their civic duty. But there is no guarantee that four years from now, those same people will be in those roles, or that they will follow the same ethical code.

Along with Trump, the Republican Party carries a heavy responsibility for the political weakening of the country. Having thrown out all the values that made it a guarantor of the rule of law, it is becoming more and more antidemocratic. Compromising with it would be a real challenge for Biden.

The Electoral College is the other poison, a slower one, injected for more than two centuries into the veins of American democracy. This indirect system of electing the president was supposed to prevent the election of a tyrant, but today the threat is the opposite. The 2020 presidential election has shown that with an authoritarian leader like Trump, who knows how to use the Electoral College to his advantage, it will no longer be impossible, in the future, to reverse the outcome of an election. The growing gap between the popular vote and the Electoral College is becoming problematic. With this system, presidential elections really only happen in 10 or so swing states, which go one way or the other depending on the election. In the roughly 40 remaining states, voters in the minority feel like they do not count. Voting becomes a geographic privilege.

Direct election of the president by the people and the abolition of the Electoral College are becoming imperatives. But this is like trying to square a circle. Small states like Wyoming are not ready to give up their privilege of counting much more than their actual weight. Up until now, there have been 700 attempts to reform or abolish the Electoral College. The last serious attempt was in 1969. The only antidote to the disintegration of democracy that is still available to Americans is the good faith of electors and judges. That remains very fragile.

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