Tombstones and a footrace

Breitbart reports that the polls are essentially tied between Trump and Clinton in the swing states, which usually decide a presidential election.  Here’s an excerpt from Mike Flynn’s recent piece:

Given the constant apocryphal warnings about Trump’s poll numbers and his unpopularity with large numbers of voters, it is very telling that the race is essentially a toss-up in the states where the contest will be decided. He is currently running no worse than Mitt Romney did or even, in places such as Pennsylvania or Virginia, running better than the 2012 nominee.

This underscores two points about the American presidential election process.

The first triggers any amount of vituperation from both those whose ox is being gored here at home and any number of sniffing Europeans.  That is that the election is not decided on the basis of popular vote but by electoral votes which don’t always deliver the same result.  And so, as Mike Flynn suggests in the full article, a Trump win appears possible even as poll after poll has Clinton edging him out among all registered voters.

Again, because certain swing states are in play.

But the second point about the antique, much maligned, undemocratic electoral college system means just as much if not more to the election because not only does the college possibly deliver a win, it effectively walls off much of the Democratic Party voter fraud.

Take the great state of Illinois for example.  Suppose that the election was decided on the basis of popular vote.  Candidate A was carrying the nation by few hundred thousand votes, and Chicago wanted Candidate B elected.  Yes, you guessed it: it would look as if the day of judgment had arrived as a million of the dead people in that city’s cemeteries rose up and trooped to the polls to vote for Ms. B.

But with the Electoral College system, the State of Illinois gets only twenty electoral votes, whether a million dead people have voted in certain Chicago wards or not.  Indeed, if everybody both living and dead in Chicago voted one hundred percent for Hillary Clinton three times over, Illinois would still cast only twenty electoral votes.

This is a great comfort.

Now, based upon the distribution of electoral votes elsewhere in the nation, it might be that Illinois’s twenty electoral votes decide the contest after all, but still, it doesn’t make any difference how many extra votes were manufactured inside the boundaries of that one state.  Or in New Jersey or on the Indian reservations in the Dakotas.

But yet another interesting fact about the vilified Electoral College system, rarely commented upon, is that neither states nor the electors are bound.  In regard to the latter issue, the Constitution makes the electors selected the electors of the president, not the people.  Sometimes some of them (usually to make an arcane point) vote for whomever they like.  But the former issue is the one that excites one’s imagination, because neither are the states bound to choose electors by popular election. 

And so in my fever dreams I see a world in which the states (for some compelling reason that escapes me at the moment) decide to choose their electors with a footrace.  One quarter-miler a day for fifty exciting days leading up to some fixed date in early November.  The first race would of course be conducted by New Hampshire, closely followed by Iowa.

The TV coverage would be wall-to-wall night after night.  And the primary debates would have candidates competing on treadmills while political analysts endlessly debated their body mass index and, of course, the possibility of illegal drugging.  The Democrats would try for a ringer by substituting a high-altitude runner from Kenya. while the Republican establishment would tend to field a former Olympic gold medalist solid on gun rights and committed to selecting Condi Rice for V.P.

And who’s to say that the results wouldn’t be better for the nation?

Oh, well.  I can only always dream.

Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD.  See it here.  He lives and writes in the colonial era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York, blogs here, and can be reached at

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