My favorite columns to write are the ones where I get to tie elements from American history into modern issues involving Colorado. I’ve long been quite the fan of the Founding period in our nation’s remarkable story (cough…hamiltonlives.com…cough) and I am always intrigued by modern-day politicians who seek to tie modern political tactics to those remarkable men (and some women, it was a different time) who created our nation from whole cloth.
A story appearing in this week's Colorado Politics is an excellent starting point for another journey into America’s past, with little old me as your tour guide. So, grab your powdered wig and let’s take yet another look at the Electoral College in the 21st century, shall we?
As you know from reading the above-linked story, Colorado has appealed the unbinding of presidential electors (the folks that make up the oddly named Electoral College). It seems a lower court ruled that presidential electors can vote for whomever they wish and are not bound to vote for the winner of the most votes in the state. These “faithless electors” call themselves the “Hamilton electors,” which is kind of ok, but not entirely accurate, but alas, that discussion must await another day. Now, where was I? (Ed: good question) Oh yeah, faithless electors.
You likely recall from your regular rereading of the Federalist Papers, that Hamilton wrote that one important result of the EC process “affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.” Hamilton, it seems, believed in run-on sentences and in the ability of the EC to prevent certain people — who are unqualified by their nature or their lack of wisdom — from ascending to the presidency.
I’ll avoid making the obvious reference to the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, and will just note that Hamilton, clearly a “Founder,” was making the case for faithless electors. Should the people of a state or two vote “wrong,” the EC can “fix” the problem. Clearly, our history shows that the EC has never fully embraced that responsibility. People of good hearts can agree to disagree on the value of that shortcoming, but it would be difficult to argue that the so-called “Founders' Intent” did not intend for faithless electors to exist, and indeed, prosper.
So why is our state’s attorney general arguing to undo the lower Court’s decision? Well, General Weiser (and yes, that is the correct title) argues, “The 10th Circuit’s decision undermines voters and sets a dangerous precedent for our nation. Unelected and unaccountable presidential electors should not be allowed to decide the presidential election without regard to voters’ choices and state law. When Americans vote in the presidential election, we are exercising our most fundamental right — the right to self-governance and self-determination. The foundation of our democracy is at risk."
I can see that point of view, but we should acknowledge that such a point of view is inconsistent with the Founders' way of seeing things, which may be just fine. After all, we don’t rely on the medical knowledge of 1776 today, and we don’t build skyscrapers using the architectural knowledge of that long-ago time. Why should we be bound by the political thinking of that day too? Hmmm?
And, my dear Republican friends, you should certainly hope that the attorney general’s case is successful. If the EC was abolished, as many argue should be done in our modern times, the GOP would be hard pressed to ever win the presidency again. Only the vastly skewed importance of smaller (and more Republican) states in the EC allows the GOP to overcome the population disadvantage they face. Remember, Presidents Bush the second and Trump got fewer votes (in 2000 and 2016) than did the “losing” candidates Gore and Clinton. The EC is the only protection the GOP has against becoming a permanent minority party.
And so, as a simple matter of self-protection, I assume the Colorado GOP has rallied in full and energetic support of Democratic AG Weiser's efforts.
I await the GOP’s ringing endorsement of this Democratic action any day now…
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.