An eloquent defense of the Electoral College by the esteemed William Hurd, Esq, plus thoughts on Pompeo's cancelled North Korean meeting... and MORE!
American Opportunity
A/O Global Intelligence Weekly: The Electoral College and Why It Matters

William H. Hurd is an American Opportunity board member and a known quantity in Virginia for his erudition and a steady hand.  Having served as an elector in 1992, Mr. Hurd's insights on the value and the traditions of the Electoral College are well worth considering.  What follows is a December 3rd, 2016 op-ed defending the institution the day before the electors went to vote on the next President of the United States.

Tomorrow, the electors chosen by each state will meet in their respective state capitals and formally elect Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.

Some supporters of Hilary Clinton are distressed by the fact that their candidate won the popular vote, but lost the election. They say that, given her popular majority, she should be president. Some are calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral system, and outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) has introduced legislation to propose such an amendment.

Their disappointment is understandable, but their protests are misplaced. To begin, there is no way of knowing who would have won if the popular vote determined the outcome. Campaigns are organized, issues emphasized, and resources deployed based on the rules as they exist at the time of the election. Change the rules, and many other things change as well. 

If popular votes elected the president, we would have seen two campaigns markedly different from the ones these candidates actually ran. The high priority given to swing states would have disappeared. For both candidates, persuading undecided voters and driving up voter turnout would have been important in every state. We can only speculate on the results.

* * *

What about next time? Should we amend the Constitution, abolish the electoral system and make only the popular vote count?

Opponents of the current system say there is no longer any need for electors. Like the mayflies of summer that live for only a day, these officials assemble one morning in mid-December, cast their state's votes, and are seen no more. 

Opponents say the electors should not be making any decisions about who should be president; it is the voters who should decide. On this point, there is no disagreement.

In today's world, electors serve little purpose and could create the possibility of mischief, if they are unfaithful to the candidate to whom they are pledged. But we should not confuse the office of elector with electoral votes. We could abolish the former while keeping the latter. The electoral votes held by each state could be cast automatically when the results in the state are finalized. 

Unfortunately, most opponents of the current electoral system want to abolish electoral votes as well as the office. That is a bad idea.

* * *

As a pragmatic matter, voting for president on a state-by-state basis, as we do now, sharply reduces the need for citizens in one state to worry about how the election is being handled in another state.

Whether it is overly-lenient early voting rules, overly-restrictive voter ID laws, or rumors of voter fraud, the effects of voting practices we find troublesome in other states are largely stopped at the state boundary. In large measure, each state can run the presidential election in the way it chooses, without worrying about whether its citizens are being disadvantaged by what is happening in other parts of the country.

But, if electoral votes were abolished and only the popular vote mattered, then every state would need to worry a great deal about how the election is being run elsewhere.

For example, so long as the votes in Virginia are not weighed directly against the votes in Florida, it does not matter so much that citizens in the Sunshine State have weeks to cast their ballots, while in the Old Dominion, barring special circumstances, citizens can only vote on Election Day. But, if state boundaries were erased and the Virginia and Florida votes were counted together, all that would change. There would be a need for nationwide uniformity in voting rules, and there is no guarantee whose set of rules Congress would enact.

And, what if the election were really close, as it was in 2000, when Bush and Gore were separated nationally by about one-half of one percent of the popular vote? Having represented candidates in three statewide recounts, I am concerned that a nationwide recount would be a real nightmare, virtually impossible to carry out in a way that promoted confidence in the outcome. For a myriad of reasons, a decentralized election system is far more practical.

There is also the matter of principle. The United States has never been a single, homogenous country. We have always been diverse. Much of that diversity is reflected in the differences among the many political communities - the states - that form our union. California is a very different place than North Carolina, and New York is very different than Nebraska.

* * *

To elect our president by voting as states - and not as a single, undifferentiated mass - recognizes and respects that diversity. That is one reason our Founders created the electoral system, assigning to each state two electoral votes reflecting its equal status as a state, plus a number of additional votes based on the size of its population.

Today, the system still helps ensure that smaller states have a meaningful voice. In fact, based on the last census, most states would lose influence if electoral votes were abandoned in favor of a popular vote system. Moreover, the electoral system forces candidates to strive for a consensus among the people of many states, not just a majority in numbers based on the large West Coast and Northeast populations that often differ so markedly from the American heartland.

This is not just a theoretical concern, as the 2016 election map demonstrates. Trump won by forging a broad consensus encompassing most of the Midwest, South, and West (excluding, of course, the Pacific Coast). A candidate who can achieve that feat is more representative of our diverse nation than one whose support is drawn mainly from the regions that remain.

It is, our course, disheartening - and, perhaps, not entirely fair - to see the other side's candidate carry your State narrowly, yet win all of the State's electoral votes. But states already have the option to allocate their electoral votes proportionately. Maine and Nebraska do so now, assigning one vote to each congressional district and reserving two for the state at-large. Other states may wish to follow their example.

Electoral voting has worked well for our Republic, fostering consensus as well as confidence in the accuracy of the election results. It is something we should keep.

William H. Hurd is a former member of the Electoral College in Virginia (1992) and was the first solicitor general of Virginia. He is now a partner at Troutman Sanders LLP, where his practice includes appellate law and election law.

More after the jump. . .
Joim American Opportunity

North Korea's miscalculation has seriously raised the stakes and increased the very real danger of military conflict in East Asia.  I have previously written an essay for our six foreign policy essays on North Korea. This opinion essay is intended to keep our members, followers, and supporters informed as to foreign policy developments. After the passage of time, this is an update.

In August, the Trump administration had announced a plan for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to travel once again to North Korea, accompanied by a new designated American representative on the North Korean negotiations.  On August 24, President Trump announced that Secretary Pompeo would be asked to cancel that trip. Reports are that a letter was sent to President Trump that was very belligerent.

The goal of the Secretary's trip was to move North Korea on towards "denuclearization" as previously promised by Kim Jong Un.  This new letter -- the contents of which are at the time relatively unknown -- not only chilled the prospects of a new meeting with the North Korean government but is a development serious enough to alert our AO/FCF readership of the implications.

President Trump has treated this crisis as a matter to be handled through diplomacy, if possible.  We will recall that President Trump even met with Kim Jong Un personally at a summit in Singapore, with many voices pointing out how very bad a military strike and a new Korean conflict would be.  Given the limited number of outcomes given to our Pacific allies in the region, the Trump administration continues to work overtime to avoid the necessity of military action. 

It should be clear that every action by President Trump and Secretary Pompeo is designed to avoid exactly that eventuality, one that holds both the potential to consume millions of Korean lives (both during the conflict and after a cessation of hostilities), but holds the very concerning potential to expand well beyond a regional conflict.  So what are the alternatives being presented by North Korea, and perhaps towards China and Russia, to the United States?

It is clear that the U.S. does not want to conduct a military action that might lead to war.  Yet the alternatives being forced upon the U.S. is to accept North Korea as a nuclear power that can send a missile to South Korea, Japan, and even the continental United States.   Such an acceptance would not only be a violation of Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and an American commitment to limit nuclear weapons in the world, but such a condition would radically upset the balance of existing power in East Asia, affecting all diplomatic relations in East Asia and the geopolitical realities in the Pacific.  In short, it is a condition that the United States cannot accept under any conditions.  

While military conflict is the option of maximum last resort, what other option does the U.S. have?

One argument against military action is that an attack would result in DPRK rocket-propelled artillery strike against Seoul.  If we accept that North Korea would make such an attack, they would invite a total and devastating response from the United States and its allies.

If we accept that North Korea would perform such a retaliatory strike, this means they cannot be deterred.  Yet if they can’t be deterred from a conventional weapons strike against Seoul, then what assurances would regional actors have against a nuclear weapons strike capable of striking assets on the US West Coast?  The West, however, may very well be deterred from challenging North Korea, unwilling to bleed in order to prevent a possibility from turning into an actuality. Thus, the nature of change in the power relations of East Asia.  

Early on, the United States was signaling such a military strike was unavoidable.  Exercises were being stepped up, aircraft were flying, and U.S. Navy assets were being deployed into the region.  This show of determination brought North Korea to the bargaining table -- for a while.

Yet in a classic move of North Korean gamesmanship, this threat of U.S military action produced the North Korean “charm offensive”.  South Korea was happy to join with the North in the Olympics. Kim’s sister traveled to the Olympics and sat in the official box. Relative visits began to occur. Remains of Korean War soldiers were brought home. Such moves made it more difficult for the U.S. and its allies to take the strong steps to protect our people from the growing threat.  

Now the North Koreans are demanding that the U.S. join a declaration that the Korean War is officially over before executing on promises to reduce and remove their nuclear weapons program.  Why is this so important to the North?  Because it lays the foundation for demanding that all U.S soldiers be withdrawn from South Korea, leaving it defenseless.  

Such a development also serves the Chinese goal of getting the United States out of East Asia and withdrawn from the Central Pacific. This would be a historic strategic loss for the U.S. and its allies, jeopardizing a peace that the United States purchased with American blood during and after the Second World War.  Given recent belligerence in the South China Sea, North Korea may be actually serving the strategic interests of China -- its principal ally.

Another result of tolerating a nuclear North Korea would be the inevitable demand for newly vulnerable Asian countries, such as Japan, to develop their own nuclear capacity.  That development would be intensely disliked by other Asian countries who still remember the Second World War. Such a policy of toleration of North Korea’s nuclear program may open the door for countries throughout the world to conclude that they too, should develop a nuclear weapons program.  This is the path to global catastrophe that would undo any hopes for nuclear non-proliferation and global peace.

Another third alternative to war or toleration may be possible.  The U.S. can keep the door open to diplomacy, but step up the military exercises and put the preemptive strike option back on the table.  This would keep North Korea on a permanent state of alert, one that costs a great deal of money, men, and material -- and North Korea is very poor.

Thus the path that brought North Korea to the negotiation table should be the path adopted once again.  Sanctions should be tightened to send a message, not a suggestion.  A near embargo would so damage the North Korean economy that they have to remove their threat to the United States and our allies while pressuring both Russia and China not to subsidize a bad bet.  The alternatives within North Korea would be an eventual rebellion before their people and the DPRK army starves -- perhaps ushering in a more moderate regime more open to reform and South Korean assistance.  

That would be a pretty good result for America, our allies in the region, and for the entire world.

Some news and articles we recommend for information and discussion purposes, none of which necessarily represent the position of A/O:

As always, American Opportunity is always looking for new resources and topics we can address in detail.  Please feel free to stay in contact! 


Jim Gilmore
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