Pursuing more lawsuits and investigations will never restore trust. Fixing our electoral system could.
Update: Enough electors have now cast their votes to make Joe Biden and Kamala Harris officially the next president and vice president of the United States.
Today in D.C. the 538 electors in the electoral college are casting the votes that will seal Joe Biden's victory as president-elect of the United States.
Still, President Donald Trump has yet to concede, and thousands of his supporters are gathering in the streets in protest of what they believe was a stolen election. Perhaps they're hoping for a groundswell of faithless electors to flip the Electoral College vote — unlikely as that may be.
Thousands of Trump supporters rally in Washington, D.C. to protest election results www.youtube.com
What's more surprising is that nearly two thirds of Republican legislators in the House of Representatives recently backed a legal case in which the state of Texas was suing four other states for the way they ran their elections. The case has since been roundly rejected by the Supreme Court.
Even the three Trump-appointees ruled that there was no basis to even consider it. But why did so many GOP politicians stick their necks out to back a case that was doomed to fail?
The answer is that their voters no longer trust American elections. With trust in the electoral system having dropped by nearly half among Republican voters — down to 36% from its 68% peak just before the election — these legislators are signaling to their base that they agree.
Look at Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler. In her debate with challenger Raphael Warnock on December 6th, Senator Loeffler repeatedly highlighted the existence of "over 250" open investigations into possible issues with the election.
Does she actually think that the results of the election are likely to be overturned? It's possible, but what's more likely is that she's concerned about her own prospects in the upcoming runoff election.
She wants to signal to the voters who are threatening to abandon the GOP out of loyalty to Trump that she is on their side — that she, too, wants to reject the election results… But she still wants them to go to the polls in January.
Loeffler Warnock debate
In many respects these lawsuits and the statements about investigations can be dismissed as political theater. But there is a real issue underlying them: American presidential elections are deeply messy and confusing.
It makes sense that voters don't trust our system, because our system is almost impossible to understand. Every state has its own rules for how votes can be cast, how they can be counted, and how the state's electors are distributed among the candidates.
Does your state allow drive-through polling or same-day registration? Does it use paper ballots or electronic voting?
Does it cut off mail-in ballots based on arrival date or postmark? Does it give all of its electors to the candidate that gets the most votes, or does it split them up — like Maine and Nebraska?
It would be silly to think that these differences don't affect the outcome of elections, so why shouldn't residents of a state like Texas scrutinize how other states run their elections? If we are all going to have to live with the result, don't we all have a stake in how voters are purged from the voting polls in Georgia?
The answer is that these differences are an inevitable consequence of the Constitution. All 50 states and the District of Columbia are granted sovereign control over how their electors are selected — with electors pledged to one presidential candidate or another.
In the past this meant that many states didn't rely on a popular vote at all. Instead, state legislatures decided which candidate they preferred and sent electors to Washington accordingly.
At this point every state allows its citizens to vote for their preferred candidate, but each state's election is so different, despite the fact that we all live with the results together. Is it any wonder people are confused and distrustful?
It doesn't help that the president and his supporters are casting further doubt on every aspect of the process, but that's hardly the only problem. The fact that every state has its own procedures and its own electoral apparatus multiplies the number of possible flaws in the system by 50 — technically 51, including DC.
This can only produce more confusion and distrust — more "Stop the Steal" protests and threats of violence. But there is good news: We can fix this.
The Constitution is not immutable. It is a living document, with an established process for changing and improving it. And while it's generally very hard to pass an amendment, if Donald Trump spent the remainder of his term in office pushing for an amendment to fix American elections, he could get enough bipartisan support — by killing the Electoral College.
Back in 2018 President Trump spoke out against the Electoral College in an interview with Fox & Friends. Democrats have long railed against the institution for having twice in the last 20 years handed the necessary 270 electoral votes to Republican candidates who lost the popular vote — the same thing nearly happened this year.
But those critics found an unlikely ally in one of the supposed beneficiaries of our current system. President Donald Trump argued in the interview that the Electoral College totally transforms the nature of the campaign, stating, "I would rather have the popular vote, because it's — to me, it's much easier to win."
President Trump Endorses National Popular Vote on Fox & Friends www.youtube.com
If he pushes to reform the system now — uniting his loyalists with Democrats — he could have the chance to prove that point in 2024. It would also be a way for him to leave an indelible, positive mark on the very fabric of our nation.
It would prevent a recurrence of the current confusion and distrust — with so many lawsuits in different states making room for uncertainty. But it would also eliminate a lot of other problems with our current system.
By establishing a federally controlled popular vote for the presidency, we could correct the fact that votes in different states are worth more than others — a vote in Texas is worth ⅓ of a vote in Vermont. We could even take the opportunity to introduce some other common sense reforms, like ranked choice voting and enfranchising voters in Puerto Rico and other territories — who have so far been subject to taxation without representation.
There are other ways to fix some of the problems with the electoral college, but none would be as effective and enduring in restoring trust in our elections as an amendment to the Constitution. By establishing a secure, unified, and straightforward electoral process for all American citizens — one person, one vote — Donald Trump could establish a lasting legacy for his 2016-2020 term.
And if he decides to run again in 2024, there would be no question about last minute rule changes or cheating in swing states. There would be one set of rules for the entire country. He would win or lose based on the simple reality of how many voters want him to be their president.
With so many politicians arguing that we need to pursue an endless string of confusing lawsuits involving hazy evidence, in order to "restore faith in the election process," it's time to look toward preventing this chaos and doubt in the future.
We don't need 51 separate, potentially vulnerable elections to pick one president. We need to kill the electoral college.