Olsen and Haas: Full Rutabaga on Electoral College
Olsen and Haas: Full Rutabaga on Electoral College
Every time the Democrats lose a national election, they inevitably derp about the abolition of the electoral college. This happened after Al Gore lost to George W. Bush, and the calls are now even stronger, mostly due to the unhinged, derangement on the part of the left after Trump won the White House in 2016. Democrats don’t like to lose, and when they do, they claim something is very wrong with the system. To be sure, it’s rare for a candidate to lose the popular vote but still win the presidency. It’s happened a total of five times in our history.
But so what? The Founding Fathers created the electoral college for good reasons, but Democrats – ever the sore losers – in modern times have sought to destroy the institution, because winning is apparently more important than fairness and just governance.
This year, their shrill calls for the elimination of the electoral college have taken on a somewhat new twist. Well… not new, really, but new for this particular issue. See, since the September 11th attacks, justifications for everything from the creation of a monster new bureaucracy, to campaign finance reform, to mandates in higher education, to pouring more taxpayer dollars into private enterprises, have come down to “national security.” All you have to do is mention “national security,” and the government plops new taxpayer dollars into your lap! The statists in Washington have realized this little fact, and have twisted themselves into pretzels to cite “national security” as a concern for their every whim.
Today’s idiotic attempt at mitigating Democrat losses last November comes from Politico, where Matthew Olsen and Benjamin Haas penned an idiotic opinion column, claiming the elimination of the Electoral College is a matter of national security, because Hamilton wrote about it in Federalist 68. But mostly, because Russia’s meddling in last year’s elections has apparently something to do with the Electoral College, even though they don’t ever draw a causative relationship between the two.
In Federalist No. 68, his pseudonymous essay on “The Mode of Electing the President,” Alexander Hamilton wrote that the Electoral College could shield the United States “from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” Because of the “transient existence” and dispersed makeup of the electors, he argued, hostile countries would find it too expensive and time-consuming to inject “sinister bias” into the process of choosing a president. At the time, the new American leaders feared meddling from Great Britain, their former colonial master, or perhaps from other powers such as France, and they designed a system to minimize the prospect that Europe’s aging monarchies could seize control of their young democracy.
It’s interesting to me how many people have co-opted Alexander Hamilton to promote their own political agendas, without actually understanding him or what he wrote – precisely the type of behavior Hamilton abhorred and sought to eliminate from society writ large during his life (for a non-bastardized account of Hamilton and his life and thought processes, check out the biography that did not become a musical, but that explores Hamilton with depth and precision).
What Hamilton wrote in the short essay on the “Mode of Electing a President” was much deeper than what Haas and Olsen claim. Hamilton was nothing if not meticulous. He sought to eliminate all vestiges of corruption and intrigue from society, and he was naive enough to believe that societal morality could be changed via government force. He believed that morality was necessary to ensure freedom. For those whom the dichotomy of this thought eludes, I offer a quote from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” – A free economy cannot exist without competition. Therefore, men must be forced to compete. Therefore, we must control men in order to force them to be free.
Hamilton’s naivete aside, Federalist 68 only mentions foreign meddling as part of the reason why he supports the creation of the electoral college. He wanted to ensure that the President wouldn’t bow to the whims of the sheeple; he wanted to minimize “cabal, intrigue and corruption”; and he believed that selecting electors for a temporary duty in order to minimize the chance of them being compromised – whether by a foreign agent or a corrupt domestic entity. Additionally, Hamilton – like many other Founders – feared the tyranny of the majority.
It has been observed by an honorable gentleman, that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved, that no position in politics is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity: When they assembled, the field of debate presented an ungovernable mob, not only incapable of deliberation, but prepared for every enormity. In these assemblies, the enemies of the people brought forward their plans of ambition systematically. They were opposed by their enemies of another party; and it became a matter of contingency, whether the people subjected themselves to be led blindly by one tyrant or by another.
Remember when I said Hamilton was meticulous? He hated chaos, and sought to avoid it at all costs. That pet peeve was right up there with immorality and corruption in this book, and he mentions in Federalist 68, his desire “to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder” to the election of a leader as important as the President of the United States.
Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.
This is the same stale argument gun grabbers use to try and relieve us of our rights. The Founders never envisioned the creation of automatic weapons (or as they claim “evil, assault rifles”), and therefore the Second Amendment is antediluvian. By that logic, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the Internet, or to broadcast media. But no… apparently the argument about our Founders being unable to foresee the future only pertains to things Democrats don’t like: guns, justice, the Constitution, you know… stuff like that.
Additionally, there’s been zero evidence that Russian disinformation and misinformation influenced the electors in any way.
In Hamilton’s day, as he argued, it would have been nearly impossible for a hostile power to co-opt dozens of briefly chosen electors flung across 13 states with primitive roads. But in the social media age, the Electoral College system provides ripe microtargeting grounds for foreign actors who intend to sabotage presidential elections via information and disinformation campaigns, as well as by hacking our voting infrastructure.
Of course, there’s no evidence that the Russians hacked our voting infrastructure, or that their disinformation campaigns were successful, but hey, don’t let facts ruin a good narrative!
One reason is that citizens in certain states simply have more voting power than citizens in other states, such as Texas and California. This makes it easier for malign outside forces to direct their efforts.
And that is precisely what the founders sought to avoid. If the Electoral College were eliminated, more populous states such as Texas, California, and New York would dominate the election, prompting candidates to focus on those states, leaving the citizens in the rest of the country ignored, their concerns unheard, and their voices “ghosted.” A 50.1 percent majority would mean that the more populous states (which SURPRISE! tend to vote for Democrats) would almost certainly dominate every election cycle, and would impose their will on less populous states.
Also, do these two really believe that the Russians would focus their disinformation campaigns on electors, but would ignore densely populated centers of the United States, using popular media to spread their message in targeted states?
But what if the national popular vote determined the president instead of the Electoral College? No voter would be more electorally powerful than another.
Not true. See above. States like California and New York would almost certainly be much more powerful than North Dakota or Nebraska.
It would be more difficult for a foreign entity to sway many millions of voters scattered across the country than concentrated groups of tens of thousands of voters in just a few states.
With the existence of modern media, the Internet, and the 24 hour news cycle, this contention is absolute crap.
And it would be more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts, which could alter an election’s outcome.
Yeah? Is that why the Russians probed at least 21 states’ election systems for vulnerabilities? Heck with only a handful of states such as California, New York, Texas, and Florida in play, they wouldn’t have to focus on the little fish. They simply would have to direct their cyber attacks against the most populous states that would swing the election their way.
Yes, a foreign entity could disseminate messages to major cities across the entire country or try to carry out a broad-based cyberattack, but widespread actions of this sort would be not only more resource-intensive, but also more easily noticed, exposed and addressed.
Congressional investigators are currently examining Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has publicly called out Russian microtargeting in 2016 swing states. In March, Warner highlighted reports of “upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect, taking over series of computers, which is then called a botnet,” and he raised the question of whether these trolls targeted voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Donald Trump, of course, won those three states by a combined total of fewer than 80,000 votes, securing him an Electoral College victory and a four-year trip to the Oval Office, despite losing the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
And yet, those questions have not revealed any definitive proof that the Russians’ efforts were successful, whether they actually did target voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, or whether Hillary’s arrogant handwaves to those states actually caused her to lose.
Facebook has already acknowledged that fake users linked to Russia spent $100,000 running political ads on its platform, on polarizing topics such as gay rights, gun control, immigration and race. Some of these ads were aimed at specific geographic areas. But we don’t yet know the full extent of Russia’s microtargeting efforts or whether they involved any cooperation with Trump’s campaign. And definitive answers to these questions may not emerge until Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller complete their investigations.
So Haas and Olsen acknowledge that definitive answers about the effects of Russia’s meddling and its botnet microtargeting efforts do not exist, and may not emerge until the investigation is complete, if at all. And yet, they still cry that the elimination of a crucial check on tyranny is the answer.
Apart from Russia’s disinformation campaign during the election, there also is reason to be alarmed about Russian cyberattacks on voting systems, including voter databases and electronic poll books used to verify voters’ identities and registration status. Recent reports indicate that Russian hackers targeted election systems in at least 21 states, and that the scope of these attacks exceeded what had been previously disclosed. These revelations are consistent with prior findings of intelligence agencies that Russian spies have been conducting reconnaissance on U.S. election processes and technology.
Except, they still got nothing, they were successful in only a handful of cases, and this has nothing to do with the Electoral College. Thanks for playing, Derpy the Wonder Spuds.
But setting aside for now worries about what happened in 2016, it is equally—if not more—important to consider the startling potential for interference in future presidential elections.
Yeah, the Democrats might lose again!
As Clint Watts, a counterterrorism expert and former FBI agent, testified in a March hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, “Today, you can create content, gain the audience, build the bots, pick out the election and even the voters that are valued the most in swing states and actually insert the right content in a deliberate period.” Furthermore, he explained that outside actors are capable of cleverly disguising bots as human beings with local flavor:
“If you do appropriate target audience analysis on social media, you can actually identify an audience in a foreign country or in the United States [and] parse out all of their preferences … If you inhale all of the accounts of people in Wisconsin, you identify the most common terms in it, you just recreate accounts that look exactly like people from Wisconsin.”
And that has what, exactly, to do with the Electoral College versus popular vote? Nope, still nothing.
And choosing the right voters to target is not a task that requires domestic assistance. As Issie Lapowsky of Wired recently explained, “there’s nothing preventing a Russian actor or anyone else from reading the news and understanding the American electorate, and thanks to readily available digital tools, targeting that electorate is simple.”
And that has what, exactly, to do with the Electoral College versus popular vote? Nope, still nothing.
There are additional ways to help combat foreign interference in presidential elections. These include hardening our voting systems through better cybersecurity, making public the false narratives that adversaries push through fake news stories and encouraging social media companies to identify and block fake accounts and bogus ad campaigns designed to tilt our elections. These methods should be fully considered and, if appropriate, implemented. But ending the Electoral College should be central to the discussion.
For no reason, other than the Democrats lost, these two want to eliminate the Electoral College, which has not been implicated in any way in Russian meddling, which prevents the very tyranny of the majority the Founders feared, and which is no more corruptible by foreign agents than any other group of individuals thanks to the lightning fast transmittal of information available today.
How about ensuring future voters are informed and educated?
How about the media reporting correct information without bias?
How about running quality candidates who are not mired in corruption or compromised by sketchy dealings with foreign agents?
Nope. At least they admit they’re pushing this because the Democrats lost.
Democrats may currently be more sympathetic to this cause given the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, but this should not be a partisan issue.
No, it’s not a partisan issue. Election systems should be secure and impervious to intrusion – whether foreign, political, domestic, or criminal. The voting public should be educated and informed. Objective reporting should be the rule, not the exception. Multiple sources of information should be available, and the voters should be interested and engaged enough to do their research and find corroborating information for available reporting.
But getting rid of the safeguard against tyranny instituted by our Founding Fathers?
Stop using “national security” and Hamilton’s words to advance your political agenda.
Hillary Clinton lost because she was a shitty candidate. She was corrupt, she was a liar, and she was roundly disliked.
If Hamilton was alive today, he’d bitchslap both Olsen and Haas.