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Faithless Electors IV – there exists an argument for secret ballot in EC

December 12, 2016

This is a potentially sensitive subject, so I want to clarify my position on it in advance. I am opposed to using the EC to change the results of an election. I also think the whole structure is flawed and does not deliver good results, a system of nationally proportional voting, perhaps with some bonuses for smaller states to acknowledge the history of the US, and a preference voting system, would be better. Using the EC to counter the results of a vote is a tool intended for extreme emergencies, and further is a tool susceptible to manipulation. 

To start off, the Electoral Collge (EC) balloting process is up to the states or the winning parties in each state, I’m still not clear on that. Here’s a source from the Congressional Research Service (RL32611) that says a paper ballot is the typical method for EC:

The electors almost always meet in the state capital, usually in the capitol building or state house itself. They vote “by ballot”—paper ballot—separately for President and Vice President. 

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32611.pdf   page 10

After which, they sign a form indicating the results of their vote for their state, and per-state EC vote total is delivered to the federal government, as per the constitution.

Or the state’s electors can simply sign their names on the form that will be sent to the federal government and be done with it, with no further process. An article in Slate citing someone from the Office of the Federal Register suggests this is typical (via Phil Ebersole) .

At least one state, Minnesota, has had secret balloting, indicating that it is allowed. (google results). They changed back to non-secret after one of their electors dissented.

Until this year, the details of this didn’t really concern anyone.

Secret balloting for the EC matters because electors who participate in a dissent that fails would be punished otherwise, in career terms. On the other hand, state or state parties (whoever of those decides the EC balloting process) would wish to have the ability to punish electors who are disobedient.

However, this year, a potent argument in favor of secret balloting in the EC has come up. It turns out that a number of crazies have been making death threats etc against electors. (google results).  So in all fairness, the sensible way to protect them, if you do believe in their constitutional power to dissent, is to allow them secret ballots. And I’m guessing they could put up a decent legal case in their state courts based on this.

The flip side is you would then have both an extreme concentration of power and secrecy —  any combination of 3 dozen or so individuals out of a group of 300 could swing this year’s result. I very much doubt that this was the intent of whoever came up with the EC system, and is a great reason why the whole thing is bad, and why sticking to the actual vote, while vulnerable to national group thinking, is still much better than what we have.  This would be regardless of whether you take the vote to be under existing rules, or a plain national vote, or some hybrid adjusted-proportional system giving extra weight to voters in smaller states.

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