Blog #95a – Questioning “So-Called President” Donald Trump’s Mandate, Immediate Actions


#95a – Questioning “So-Called President” [1] Donald Trump’s Mandate:
Immediate actions, Long-Term Possibilities, Constitutional Questions.

This blog, and the blog before it, Blog #95 – “Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election?” – summarize the findings of Blogs #92a to #95 on “so-called President” Donald Trump’s claim to have won the election as president of the United States, and suggests some Immediately practical reforms of the Election Process in the United States They raise some longer-term issues about the constitutionality of the Electoral College per se, issues whose results in the 2016 election deserve wide discussion. [1a]

IMMEDIATE ACTION POSSIBILITIES.

First and foremost, questions about the legitimacy of the 2016 election process and its results must become matters of wide-spread concern and debate. That means raising in the public debate the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s Electoral College “win,” challenging every boast that Trump or his positions represent a landslide, a majority, a popular consensus, a mandate, etc., every time such claims are made. It is in fact estimated at only 27.2% of all eligible voters at Blog #93.

Watching how the question is formulated is important.

It’s not “What did Trump do to win the Presidency, “ but “what aspect of the Electoral process enabled him to claim that office when he in fact only received a minority of the popular vote in the election for it?”

Nor is “what did Clinton do wrong that cost her the election?” the key question. She in fact got almost three million more votes than the nearest contender for the office. The question is rather, “Why, if Clinton got a significant plurality of all votes cast in the election, did she not get the Presidency?”

And it’s not, “How could Trump convince a majority of the voters of his ultra-conservative agenda,” but “How was it a relatively small proportion of the electorate (my estimate above was 27.2% of those eligible to vote} could impose such an agenda on the rest of the country?”

Perhaps even more important in the public discourse, a recurrent theme among those defending Trump and his policies, and many presumably “neutral” commentators” is that,” after all, he was elected the President of the country, and, whether you agree with him or not, you have to respect that he is the legally chosen representative of the people and must be recognized as speaking for them in what he says and does.” “He got elected; live with it,” goes the line.

But that’s precisely wrong, and runs against across the grain of the whole theory of democratic government Trump is not entitled, now that he has “won the election,” to impose his particular agenda on the country by executive mandate or administrative fiat. On the contrary; he was elected by the
votes of 62,980,160 voters out of a total population of eligible voters of 231,556,622, or 27.2 % of the electorate. He has an obligation to represent all of those 231,556,622, whether they voted for him or not, or didn’t vote at all. [1b]. His voters actually represent a minority of the American citizenry , and in fact not even a plurality of the actual voters.{See Blog #93} He not only has no over-riding mandate behind his policy positions, he in fact has a positive mandate to compromise, to consult, to listen, to bring people together. Supporters or interviewers who are content to stop at, “after all, he’s the President,” mistake how a real democracy functions.

LONGER TERM ACTIONS

Longer term but needing to be kept constantly on the table, is the National Popular Vote proposal (NPV}. It is simple. It would have every state have its Electors in the Electoral College allocate their votes in the same proportion as the national popular vote. If states with a majority of the electoral vote now adopted it, it would guarantee that the Electoral College result would be the same as the national popular vote.[2].

NPV has three big advantages: It is intuitively fairer, more democratic, and is simple and relatively easy to understand. And it does not necessarily favor either major political party today. It has already bi-partisan support in at least 11 states, with more considering it. And it solves the constitutional problem that Electoral College votes are weighted in favor of small states, because however many electoral votes a given state has, they will be cast to accord with the national popular vote result.

And it does not require a Constitutional Amendment to be effective, just agreement of the states having entitled to the majority of Electoral College votes.

It has two disadvantages: It does not solve the plurality/minor parties’ problem. But to do that would complicate the initial reform effort substantially. And it might still permit a plurality to win the Presidency. Only adding even more complicated (although fairer) Proportional voting methods would solve that problem (and be fairer to minor party voters as well), but seems too cumbersome for at least the first effort at reform.

Politically, the National Popular Vote Proposal is however a positive demand, for four reasons:

First, it is both intuitively and logically right. It improves democracy in government, and is likely (although not guaranteed) to advance social justice in its substantive results.

Second, it is a unifying demand, putting the leftish, Sanders wing of the Democratic Party into contact with the mainstream, and facilitating communication and persuasion in on-going political work.

Third, it highlights Trump’s minority support status, accentuating how far he is from a mandate for his policies, how strong the argument is that he must recognize the needs and demands of the majority of the voters in what he does while still in office. And,

Fourth, it is achievable –.it has already been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral vote, and has further been passed by one chamber in 3 Republican and 1 Democratic-controlled legislatures. Only 270 are needed for it to become effective.

Then, a problem with both short and longer term approaches. The proportion of actual voters casting ballots among present and potential voters is strikingly less in the United States than in other developed democratic countries. Part of the reason no doubt lies in the skepticism about the difference it makes, with neither major party offering a break-through in meeting voters’ deepest concerns. But a part of the explanation for the fact that 40% of those eligible to vote did not do so lies also in the obstacles placed in the way of registration to vote in many states, which the courts are partially remedying. Strong national legislation would help.

As this is written, Trump is maintaining that that perhaps 3,000,000 votes, even among the limited numbers actually voting, were illegal. That’s been met with wide-spread incredulity. In fact, if the winner-take-all provision part of the Electoral College voting process, adopted at the discretion of each state, were dropped, the number of actually effective votes might be increased by a least an equal number.

Restoring the “preclearance” provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,”, requiring with appropriate language, advance approval by a federal court or the Department of Justice for questionable state changes to voting regulations under the Voting Rights Act would surely increase the number of eligible voters significantly, removing inappropriate barriers to participation by many.

And there is a simple non-controversial measure that would undoubtedly be helpful in increasing the number of voters actually voting:

Make Election Day a national holiday

Perhaps even provide that it be a paid holiday in covered employment, as many state laws and some government contracts now provide for sick leave—perhaps by requiring Election Day as a paid holiday under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Like NPV, the call for Election Day as a holiday is simply a good government measure, one that advances democracy, and should not become a partisan political issues. It would surely have a healthy, and progressive, impact both on how many vote and who votes; no one should object to it. And the country is surely rich enough so that it can afford one day a year of less production in the cause of better and more responsive government. And, for that matter , wouldn’t one day less of being required to go to work to make a living advance the quality of life for all our people?

CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS

The constitutional questions surrounding the Electoral College are fundamental questions.
Article I of the Constitution as first adopted, provided

Article I

“…in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.” [2a]

It has been almost unanimously implemented through state action since then to provide that the votes of a state shall be that resulting from a winner-take-all count, i.e. a state’s one vote shall be for whoever gets a plurality of that state’s votes,. Thus the votes of all losers in the state’s votes are disregarded in determining who has won the final vote in the Electoral College.[3]

But the Twelfth Amendment, Article II, adopted in 1804, provides:

Article II
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress
Under that provision all states have, a least since 1824, adopted a winner take all election procedure [4]. Its effect, of course, is to make the minority votes in any state irrelevant in the final count for Electors. While it might seem unfair to any party coming in second in any individual state’s race, any party winning a plurality will appreciate the rule, and thus, since winning parries make the rules it has apparently remained unchallenged over time.
But winner-take-all does seem to abridge the rights of a substantial number of voters in any Presidential election, and arguably to violates the intent of the 15th amendment.[3]
So the U.S. Constitution does not mandate that system, however. Instead, it is left up to the states to determine how they select their representatives in the Electoral College, and the states have followed the winner-take-all arrangement without serious challenged since its adoption in 1804. For the first 13 presidential elections, spanning the first four decades of the history of the United States, states experimented with many different electoral system. By 1836, all but one state, South Carolina, uses the winner-take-all method based on the statewide popular vote to choose its electors. South Carolina continues to have its legislature choose electors until after the Civil War. [4]

The Fifteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, contradicts , in spirit if not in terms, this Electoral College provision. Adopted in 1870, it reads:
Amendment XV
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

In adopting the 15th Amendment, the intent was to grant all citizens, including the recently liberated black slaves, a full “unabridged” right to vote, implicitly with a vote equal to that of all other voters. The Electoral College procedure favoring some voters over others {See Blog #94} distorted – abridged — that result. If 65,845,063 Clinton voters in the 2016 popular election had their vote discounted by 29% [See #blog 95} compared to the vote of the 62,980,160 Trump voters there is clearly something wrong. Such a discounting is an “abridgement” of their right to vote, in the terms of the 15th Amendment.

But it did not make any practical difference in the outcome then, and when it much later did, the 15th Amendment argument seems not to have been made to challenge it.

It might be argued that the language of the 15th Amendment created a class of particularly protected citizens: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and that category of voter is not affected by the current procedures in either the national popular vote nor the votes in the Electoral College. But it should not be hard to demonstrate factually that those whose votes have been abridged in 2016 by the Electoral College winner-take –all system were indeed disparately voters who individually or as a group were disparately of a particular race and had suffered then or earlier by conditions of servitude of members of the group.. The minority voters, many of the 65,845,063 Clinton voters, were in a minority in their states although in a majority in the national vote, should be entitled to the protection of this language of the 15th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment’s language, with its equal protection language, does not single out any particular group for special protection, but applies to all. Its reach protects “citizens of the United States” and extends to “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”
While not directly referencing voting rights it contains a broad edict:

Amendment XIV, Article I

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Supreme Court ruled in Bush vs. Gore.

Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another. See, e.g., Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U. S. 663, 665 (1966). “…once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment”.”[5]

Ironically, Donald Trump himself left the door open to a challenge of the legitimacy of the results of the ‘Electoral College vote when, in the course of the election campaigning Ohio, he flatly refused to commit himself to respect the vote, whatever it would be. Trump told supporters that “the bottom line is we’re going to win.” He would “accept a clear election result,” but he would also “reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.[6] Presumably, if he were to consider rejecting the vote of the Electoral College because it was rigged, he would object whether the rigging was in his favor or in Clinton’s. He simply wanted to reserve the right to challenge the results when the appropriate time came.

The public needs to engage with these questions, and the courts and the legislature should now be asked to address them directly. Until they are resolved, a dark cloud will hang over any claim of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.

————————-

[1] I would never have thought it appropriate to use this phrase had not Trump himself spoken of the recent decision of Federal District judge Roberts of the Federal District Court in Washington state, with which he disagreed, as the decision of ”this so-called judge.” It may however not be inappropriate in this case; see our conclusion below.
[1a] The six most relevant recent blogs, all at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, are:
#91 – Explaining the Election in 10 Sentences – Preliminary
#92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%
# 93 – Election Figures Show Trump with Only 27.2% of Eligible Voters-What Mandate?
#94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today? #95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election
#95a – Questioning “So-Called President Donald Trump’s Mandate+
[1b]https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VAcF0eJ06y_8T4o2gvIL4YcyQy8pxb1zYkgXF76Uu1s/edit#gid=2030096602 https://twitter.com/totalogic
[2} http://www.nationalpopularvote.com.
[ 2a] Somewhat ambiguous language, but interpreted as meaning all the Electors from each state share one vote, that plurality in that state’s vote, and it shall be for both President and Vice President, so that those two offices will be filled by the same party..
[3] See “The Equal Protection Argument Against Winner Take All in the Electoral College: The Constitution doesn’t require the Electoral College to count votes the way it traditionally has”. By Lawrence Lessig | December 12, 2016,, available at http://billmoyers.com/story/equal-protection-argument-winner-take-electoral-college/ and Blog #94,“In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today
[4] http://www.fairvote.org/how-the-electoral-college-became-winner-take-all.
[5] http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/531/98.html
[6] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/10/20/donald-trump-election-results-debate-hillary-clinton/92450922/

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