The presidential election of 2016 will go down in the history books as the political equivalent of a tsunami instead of the expected drizzle. As we read news of Donald Trump’s plans for the first 100 days of his administration and some of his top picks for advisors, many among us are still in a state of mourning. The first stage of grief is denial. That's likely why so many people are now asking members of the Electoral College to vote against the outcome in their states. This would mean electors representing states won by Donald Trump would instead cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton when they meet to finalize the election results on December 19. I have sad news for supporters of this plan: It's a pipe dream. This is the fifth time in the history of our nation that the winner of the national popular vote (the person who got the most votes overall) is not the winner of the Electoral College. Most recently, this happened in 2000, when former President George W. Bush famously won the election despite getting fewer votes than former Vice President Al Gore. Let's back up for a minute for those looking for some background. So what is the Electoral College? It's a group of 538 people who are chosen by the political parties to vote for the president and vice president. Members of the Electoral College pledge to vote according to the vote of the people in their state. There is nothing in the federal constitution that requires electors to honor that pledge, but many states have enacted laws that would punish so-called “faithless electors" who go against the outcome of the vote. Yes, you read that right. We the people do not elect the president and vice president. The people elect the electors, who elect the president and vice president. And what is the purpose of the Electoral College? Frankly, its purpose is to protect us from ourselves. The Electoral College acts as a filter between the voters, a potentially passionate and unruly mob, and their elected leaders. The founding fathers were worried about direct elections of the first and second most powerful person in our federal government. For instance, in the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton advocated against the direct election of the president and vice president and for the Electoral College, saying that “immediate election [of the President] should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.” Put another way, voters were not viewed as being able to appropriately assess the president and vice president's qualifications without a little safety net called the Electoral College.
We the people do not elect the president and vice president. The people elect the electors, who elect the president and vice president.
Regardless of whether the Electoral College serves a good public-policy purpose, it is unlikely that we will eliminate or even reform it anytime soon.