Equal citizenship

In less than two weeks, our nation’s more than 500 electors will formally cast their votes for President of the United States, making the election of Donald Trump official.

Maybe.

Experts who study the electoral process say that’s what they expect, but these electors could choose to cast their votes instead for Hillary Clinton, whose lead in the popular vote now exceeds 2 million. She’s ahead by that many votes, yet her opponent is considered the winning candidate and becomes the president-elect. Think about this.

David Halperin, who helped Howard Dean in his 2004 campaign for president, argues that our electors have a responsibility to reject Trump’s candidacy. He invokes the thinking of Alexander Hamilton, who wrote that the Electoral College “affords a moral certainty that the office of the presidency will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” (Italics mine.) Halperin insists the electors have “not just a right, but an obligation, not to vote for a candidate lacking such qualifications.”

Other respected thinkers agree. Larry Tribe, Harvard law professor, thinks Trump disqualifies himself on the basis of his conflicts of interest and his refusal to liquidate his assets and set up a blind trust.

Lawrence Lessing, Tribe’s colleague at Harvard, raises “one of the most important principles governing our democracy: one person – one vote. In our system today, the vote of one person weighs more heavily than the vote of another.” The vote of a Wyoming resident is four times stronger than the vote of  a Michigan resident. Lessing argues that this “denies Americans the fundamental value of a representative democracy — equal citizenship. Yet nothing in our Constitution compels this result.”

I agree with Lessing’s position that  if the Electoral College is to control who becomes our president, we should take that responsibility seriously and understand its exact purpose. “It is not meant to deny a reasonable judgment by the people,” Lessing writes. “It is meant to be a circuit breaker — just in case the people go crazy.” That didn’t happen in this election. Most of the people, by far, chose the most qualified candidate we have seen in several decades.

The electors need to decide, as Lessing suggests, whether there is any good reason to veto the people’s choice. There isn’t. In fact, the important principle of one person-one vote is the compelling reason the electors should confirm the will of the people.

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