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Five hundred thirty-eight electors meet today in state capitols around the country to cast their votes for president and vice president. Historically, this day has been a mere formality. But in a deeply divided election that saw Hillary Clinton win the popular vote by more than 2 million votes, presidential electors have been flooded with emails and phone calls urging them to change their vote. More than half of states require electors to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in that state. But those laws are weak and carry only nominal penalties. And on Friday, an appeals court ruled several states cannot remove electors if they change their votes. Diane and guests discuss presidential electors and the outcome of the 2016 election.
- E.J. Dionne Jr. Senior fellow, Brookings Institution; columnist, The Washington Post; author, "Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism--From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond"
- Danielle Kurtzleben Politics reporter, NPR
- Gary L. Gregg Director, McConnell Center at the University of Louisville; author of "Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College"
- Chris Suprun Republican elector from Texas
- Bret Chiafalo Democratic elector from Washington state; co-founder of Hamilton Electors.com
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Members of the Electoral College meet in the states today to cast their votes for president and vice president. Dozens of electors have been flooded with letters and emails asking them not to vote for President-elect Trump and more than 50 Democratic electors asked for an intelligence briefing on Russian interference in the election.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about so-called faithless electors and the 2016 presidential election, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Danielle Kurtzleben of NPR. Joining us from a studio in Louisville, Kentucky, Gary Gregg of the University of Louisville. Throughout the hour, we'll invite your questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MS. DIANE REHMFollow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all so much for joining us today.
MR. E.J. DIONNE JR.Good morning, Diane. Good to be with you.
MS. DANIELLE KURTZLEBENThank you.
MR. GARY L. GREGGGood morning, Diane.
REHMDanielle, I'll start with you. Take us through the mechanics. The electors do not all meet in one place. Where are they? How are they chosen?
KURTZLEBENRight. So electors today in all 50 states, plus D.C., will be meeting, well, except for in D.C., in state capitals or office buildings maybe around the capital, but it is dictated in the Constitution that they meet in their states. Those electors, in general, were chosen by their political parties in their states. So when we all went to the polls on November 8th, every -- actually when you check the box or whatever for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, you weren't choosing the candidate. You were choosing the electors that the parties in your state have chosen to represent your state on the -- and I want to get this right -- the Monday following the second Wednesday in December.
KURTZLEBENAnd that is today and that is enshrined in federal law as the day that the Electoral College does its voting.
REHMI gather there have only been nine faithless electors in 100 years.
KURTZLEBENRight, yeah. Overall, Fair Votes, which is a voting advocacy organization, has counted up 157 in total over the history of the U.S. But it is very rare and it has grown increasingly rare. In fact, the last faithless elector that there was, quote/unquote "faithless," was in 2004. It was an anonymous elector from Minnesota who voted for John Edwards instead of for John Kerry and it -- there are many people who wonder if maybe that was just an honest mistake, as opposed to, you know, some sort of a odd protest vote.
DIONNE JR.Because I think that elector voted for Kerry for vice president, if I remember right.
DIONNE JR.Yeah, and somebody correct me out there, but I think...
REHMOh, for heaven's sake.
DIONNE JR....he flipped the ticket.
DIONNE JR.Or she.
REHM...states bind their electors. Is that correct?
KURTZLEBENYes. Plus, the District of Columbia here. But this is really interesting because these states have these laws that say, yes, you need to vote for who the people in your state voted for. However, it's not entirely clear whether those laws are Constitutional and there are plenty of Constitutional law scholars who disagree on this, who say, you know, listen, the Constitution and the founders really did say the electors can choose who they vote for, no matter what. So it is a big question whether someone could actually prosecute an elector for voting quote/unquote "their conscience."
REHMAll right. And, E.J., you say these electors should think hard before handing Trump the presidency. Why?
DIONNE JR.Well, I think more than any single thing, it's this news that we've been studying over the last couple weeks that the Russians kind of hacked our election and intervened with the express purpose, according to the CIA, of making Donald Trump our president. And there is a wonderful passage in Federalist 68 that everybody -- that document that everybody's been quoting the Hamilton electors, where Hamilton said that the electors could be a barrier against, quotes, "the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our counsels."
DIONNE JR.And then, he has this wonderful line, "how could they better gratify this than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy," sorry about that, "of the union. " And now, I think that this is a serious matter and at the very least, if enough electors bolted from Trump, you could force it into the House of Representatives and have a little more time to ponder this. Having said all that, this would be an enormous disruption of the system and that the tradition, not in the Constitution, by the way, and we can talk about that as the show goes on, but the tradition since 1828 and by state law is the electors follow the wishes of their state voters.
DIONNE JR.That's generally a good idea in principle, although, and I'm sure we'll get to this, I've long believe the Electoral College needed to be scrapped entirely and replaced with a popular vote. If I may, just one more fact. We only had a discrepancy between the plurality winner of the popular vote and the Electoral College three times, from 1788 to 1996. And in two of those, they were very peculiar elections, 1824 and 1876. This has happened to us now twice since 2000. And given population movements in the country toward metro areas, it's almost certainly going to happen more often now and that's why I think we really have to reconsider this system.
DIONNE JR.And, again, just to underscore it, I felt this long before the Donald Trump experience of this year.
REHMBut both candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and all the others, knew before this election began that the Electoral College rules were in place. So how can you say now that they should think hard before they vote for Donald Trump?
DIONNE JR.Well, some of this, obviously, hangs on how you view Donald Trump. What I wrote in the column you referenced is that, yes, it would be a huge disruption of our system if this happened, but I also think Donald Trump himself is a huge disruption and perhaps danger to our system. So in this case, my view of this very much hangs on the nature of Donald Trump. I make no bones about that. But also on the information that we've gotten both a little bit before and in even more detail after the election.
DIONNE JR.There were some disturbing things that happened. And, again, in that column, I take very seriously the idea that this is not a normal thing, but I think that in Trump's case, it is worth electors thinking twice and I think you've seen, in this round, far more agitation about the issue of whether electors should exercise their conscience than you did before, even in 2000, with the great controversy over Florida. We had nothing like the conversation that we're having now about the electors exercising their independent judgment.
REHMGary Gregg, do these electors have the right to vote their conscience?
GREGGWell, Diane, if we take the founders vision seriously on this, and Constitutionally, I think they do have the right to and that's a good way to put it. I've thought about this. So Hamilton clearly outlines a deliberative process and I think that's what the founders intended. They were to meet today -- if what -- Electoral College functions as it was intended today, you would have some theoretically smart, virtuous, good people elected by the state legislature somehow in the state. They would meet today and they would talk about it. They would talk about the candidates. They would talk about what they knew about them.
GREGGThey would talk about the needs of the country and then vote for a fit person for president, as Hamilton said. It doesn't work that way anymore. So I think they still have the right to deliberate and to think, but we've also democratized in American history so this -- over the course of American history and we have democratic elections now in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allocates the electors according to who won the state. And so I think we have bought into that vision now and that is our -- and it is the states' rights to do that under the Constitution.
GREGGAnd so I think what you need, it seems to me, if you have a formula to put out there, is the electors have a right always to think about this and to decide, but I think they should, in their own conscience, decide if they should or not and that would only happen, it seems to me, that post election you got new information that the American people did not have before them or the people of their state did not have before them during the election. And I think this fails. E.J. is, I think, wrong. Well, he's not wrong on that because he didn't address that directly.
GREGGBut I think the Russian stuff, the stuff that has come out, we all sort of knew before. We have some more confirmation of it, but this is what the Clinton campaign put out constantly about every -- her response to every leak was not to respond on the merits of the leak itself and whether -- they never confirmed them or denied them until after the election, of course. They are sort of now when they say the Russians have did it, but it was always the Russians did it and so ignore this and focus on the Russians. So we knew this coming in. This is not new information.
REHMAll right. And we're going to get more into that information, but Gary, how likely do you think Republican electors are likely to change their votes?
GREGGThat's absolutely no likelihood whatsoever. This is an important exercise to talk about it and education, but that is not going to happen. We may have the one, the Chris, I think his name is, in Texas that may -- that seems like he's -- he's certainly going to flip. You may have one or two others, but the idea that you're going to get 37 committed Republicans to bow to Hollywood pressure and thousands of attack emails from liberal, et cetera, is nonsense.
REHMGary Gregg, he's director of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville and author of "Securing Democracy: Why We Have An Electoral College." Short break, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the Electoral College, which is voting today. College is a curious word because the electors do not come together to meet. They meet within their own states and state capitols and of course within the District of Columbia. Joining us now from Austin, Texas, is Republican elector Chris Suprun. Chris, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. CHRIS SUPRUNGood morning.
REHMI understand you have decided not to vote for Donald Trump today. Tell us why.
SUPRUNWell I think, Diane, that Mr. Trump has disqualified himself subjectively. When we look at his record on foreign policy and national security he has -- was considered a threat to -- if he were president according to 50 Republican national security and foreign policy expects. He's been an absolute demagogue for at least 18 months, and that hasn't change since the election, where he continues to divide people based on race, where they worship, the color of their skin and so forth.
SUPRUNBut objectively we know that from day one his foreign interests would create a constitutional crisis. He would be in violation of the Emoluments Clause, and he would be earning money from foreign governments from day one, and that's unacceptable to both our founding fathers, as well as me.
REHMI gather you have asked for an intelligence briefing on Russia. What was the response you've had?
SUPRUNWell I signed on to a letter with several other Democratic electors who wanted to get that information about the CIA. That was denied I believe on Saturday by the director of national intelligence. But again, that's kind of a icing-on-the-cake issue for me more than a fundamental issue right now. He failed to test otherwise. That just shows additionally, though, that his allegiance may not be with America.
REHMSo who do you plan to vote for today?
SUPRUNCertainly there was an op-ed that I believe The Hill published a little while ago announcing that I will be voting for John Kasich. I know that previously he has said he doesn't want Electoral College members to do that. It's not that different, in my opinion, though, than what George Washington said more than 200 years ago. He had to be drafted into service, as well. So I'm hoping we get the 37 votes to send this to the House and that they make a choice of John Kasich, as well.
REHMSo tell me what the reaction has been to your decision.
SUPRUNWell the reaction has been across the board. You know, I've received death threats, quite frankly, myself and my family, and any number of personal attacks from people who are unhappy that I won't vote for Mr. Trump. And then on the other side I've had people from across Dallas, across Texas, across the country even and outside the country who have said this is great, this restores my faith in America that you will stand up and do what's right for your country.
SUPRUNI have at least one person who came to who can claim their genealogic lineage back to the American Revolution, and that person said I think my ancestors would endorse your behavior and your work. So the blowback has been on both sides, and you take the good with the bad.
REHMChris, I also understand you were criticized by some media outlets by somehow misrepresenting yourself in the op-ed that you wrote. How so?
SUPRUNWell there was a single news station here in the Dallas area that used either an unnamed source or no source at all that said Chris couldn't have gone to 9/11. That's been refuted. It's been validated by multiple independent sources. And I'm not sure when or if they're going to issue a retraction. In my case it's little bit like litter, though. When you put your trash in a trash can, everything stays nice and clean, but if you just throw paper out along the highway as you're driving, it creates a giant mess for other people to clean up.
SUPRUNIt's part of a wider plan to try to smear and distract from what I'm doing, talking about why Mr. Trump's not qualified.
REHMTell me what time you plan to vote today.
SUPRUNThe Electoral College here in Texas, our delegation will meet at 2:00 this afternoon. We have a little bit of business to attend to before the actual voting, but I think we'll be done by 3:00 my time.
REHMDo you think there will be others joining you?
SUPRUNYes. I do not think I will be the only Republican today, but I can't give you specific numbers, obviously. From state to state, people have their own right to vote as their see fit. I just ask that they cast a vote of conscience and vote their principles.
REHMChris Suprun, he is from Austin, Texas. He is a Republican elector who will not vote for Donald Trump today. Thanks so much for joining us.
REHME.J., how many of those do you think there are out there?
DIONNE JR.Well the honest answer is I have absolutely no idea. I suspect that Gary is right, that we're not going to see enough Trump electors defect to throw this into the House of Representatives.
DIONNE JR.But I think what's going to be fascinating is if even a significant number, and I would put that as five or six electors, bolt from Trump, it tells us that something special has happened here, that there is a particular concern about Donald Trump. And Gary made the point that, well, the Clinton people talked about Russia before this election.
DIONNE JR.Two things about that. One is I've heard a critique of the Clinton campaign, that they actually responded to all these emails, and they should have simply said we've not responding to any of this, this is Russian intervention in the election, and they should have put it even more in the forefront. But second, it involves obviously a disagreement between Gary and me over how much the new information we got, the intelligence agencies explicitly saying, which they did not say before the election, that the Russians were intervening to elect Donald Trump.
DIONNE JR.This is different from saying the Russians were intervening simply to mess up our electoral process, and it makes sense that they might have done that because -- and Hillary Clinton made this point, but others have made this point, too, Vladimir Putin really doesn't like Hillary Clinton because she spoke up about the rigging of the Russian election in Putin's favor, and so he intervened in this election.
DIONNE JR.So, you know, we can argue about this. I suspect assuming Trump wins today, we will still be arguing into the Trump term about what Putin's impact was and what we should do about it.
REHMDanielle, how much do we know about how much Russia intervened with the election?
KURTZLEBENI mean, what we have are, you know, major national intelligence officials saying they have confidence, I don't remember their exact phrase, but they have confidence that Russia was involved in this and that people from the highest levels of Russia were involved in this. And beyond that, I'm not sure on the exact specifics of, you know, the mechanics of it, but we -- but it does seem from these people, from these people at the highest levels of our intelligence services, that Russia really was behind a lot of this.
REHMGary, are we ever going to know how much they did interfere, how they interfered and to what extent they did in effect disrupt the election?
GREGGYeah, no, I don't think -- you know, elections are so complicated. If you're talking about just the first part of the intelligence brief, I don't have any idea whether the intelligence community will come out at some point. Most secrets come out at some point. We might know that. But elections are so complicated. I don't think you can isolate any one little part and say that caused the election to go the way it was, and I highly doubt it would be these leaks, frankly.
GREGGThe people that voted for Trump I think would have probably voted for Trump at the end of the day for a whole, complicated -- lots of other reasons, economics, despair, concerns about Clinton, concerns about the last eight years and the direction of the country. This was a change election. I'm not sure the Russians -- leaks had much to do with it.
DIONNE JR.It's a change election, by the way, we haven't even mentioned this number in which 2.8 million, at the last count, more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. And just to Gary's point, I don't think the issue here is you have to prove that the Russian intervention is the one and only reason why the election came out the way it did. Of course elections are decided by multiple factors.
DIONNE JR.What's important is that we did have this intervention, which is the kind of intervention we have not, to our knowledge, ever seen before, and that really matters whether you think that this outcome is the result of one factor or 100 factors.
KURTZLEBENRight, yeah, and the one thing that I would add to both Gary and E.J. is this interesting idea that during the election there was talk about the election being, quote, rigged or hacked or whatever. I think there was a general idea in the back of some people's -- you know, voters' minds that oh, you know, maybe a voting machine could be hacks. That did not -- we, you know, that did not happen.
KURTZLEBENBut I saw a great headline, I believe it was on Slate, that said, you know, the votes weren't hacks, maybe, but the voters were hacked.
DIONNE JR.That was a very good piece.
REHMRight, yeah, and I mean, so there's no way to quantify, really, whatever influence the Russian hacks did or did not have. Who can ever know, you know, what me knowing John Podesta's risotto recipe or what have you could have done to anybody's vote. We're certainly never going to know that.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Niles. It is the responsibility of the electors to keep a demagogue from becoming president. This is their primary function. E.J., demagogue is a strong word. Do you subscribe to that word?
DIONNE JR.About Trump, I certainly do. And, you know, I think there -- here's something Gary and I probably agree on. We should be candid in saying that the system that we have, that we -- really since the 1828 election, when all but two states elected electors by popular vote, has not seen the electors as having an independent role in the same way the founders foresaw it both in the Constitution itself and in the 12th Amendment, which altered the system. And those of who are saying that maybe this time they should exercise their independent judgment have to be candid about that -- that long history.
DIONNE JR.But I do think that Trump presents us with challenges and problems that no other candidate has ever presented us with, at least in my lifetime.
REHMAll right, and there is another email. Do the electors meet or otherwise communicate amongst themselves, either formally or informally, prior to their election day?
DIONNE JR.There's no rule that they can't. I mean obviously these Hamilton electors who were trying to drum up opposition to Trump have been in communication with electors. I spoke with an elector a couple weeks ago, who said she's gotten a lot of phone calls and been contacted by people. So, you know, there's no bar on their consulting with each other. They have the freedom to do that. They're not sealed off from the rest of us.
REHMAll right, and joining us now is Bret Chiafalo, and I'd really like to know about your, quote, Hamilton Electors group. Bret, tell us about it.
MR. BRET CHIAFALOYes, Diane, and thanks for having me. I've always been a big fan of yours.
CHIAFALOHamilton Electors was started when Michael Baca, a fellow elector in Colorado, and myself on November 9 decided that we had a moral imperative because of what we believe we were directed to do in Federalist 68 and the Constitution to stop Donald Trump because he is a demagogue, an unfit president and may be influenced by foreign powers. And it's grown to a movement that today is having vigils in all 50 states and has thousands of volunteers and maybe if we're lucky, 37 electors voting for someone like John Kasich.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want you all to know Bret Chiafalo is a Democratic elector and co-founder of the HamiltonElectors.com. How many Republican voters have you talked to, Bret?
CHIAFALOI've spoke to dozens personally, and other electors and lawyers in my group have spoken to dozens more.
REHMAnd who might you vote for?
CHIAFALOI will probably, when I sit down, vote for John Kasich because I want to encourage all Republican electors to put party -- excuse me, put country before party, and I think the best way for me to ask them to do that is by modeling that behavior myself.
REHMI gather that first you told the Seattle Times you might vote for Bernie Sanders. What changed your mind?
CHIAFALOWell for one, my main goal of voting for Bernie Sanders is Hillary Clinton had won by 30 or 40 electoral votes was to bring attention to the Electoral College and how Americans actually vote for president because so many people I talked to, even other electors at the beginning, didn't understand how the system worked. So that was just an opportunity for me to educate the American people.
CHIAFALOObviously what changed is Donald Trump won the preliminary vote for electors, and that presented an emergency situation that we had to respond to.
REHMBret Chiafalo, Democratic elector, co-founder of HamiltonElectors.com, thanks for joining us.
CHIAFALOThanks for having me.
REHMAnd here's an email on this subject from Jerry in Michigan, who says California has a population of 38 million plus and 55 electors, or 696,000 people per elector. Meanwhile Wyoming has a population of 582,658 and three electors, or 194,219 people per elector. So Wyoming people have 3.5 times as much influence about who becomes president. That's where the real problem is. How do you feel about that, Gary Gregg?
GREGGYeah, well, take the extremes there, obviously, and it seems to be a disparity. Let me say it's not the -- it's no different disparity than the United States Senate. So under the same, and it's -- that's basically the difference there. And so under the same rules, you have to throw out the United States Senate, as well. I just think there's -- there is a disparity there, there's no question about that, but there are lots of ways -- if we talk about the Electoral College, which we did on your show a few weeks ago, there are lots of ways to -- there's lots of good that the Electoral College brings that this math sort of -- it offsets the math, including having very competitive elections, not allowing one state, which is California, which all of Hillary's victory -- she won California by more than four million votes, she won the nation by under three million votes, and so she won just Los Angeles by 1.2 million votes, which is the same margin that Trump wins in 11 battleground states all combined.
GREGGSo it gives us a diversity here. Michigan counts, Minnesota counts, Wisconsin counts, Pennsylvania counts, really cool rural voters count, urban voters count and the like, and I think it's -- it gives us competitive elections, it gives us rule of law kind of elections, gives us -- stops recounts and does good for the American democracy.
REHMGary Gregg, he is director of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville and author of "Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College." I'm sure you'll hear an opposing view from E.J. Dionne, pardon me, when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, Gary Gregg, who's the author of "Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College" responded to an email citing the disparity in the number of electors per population that various states, California and Wyoming, have. E.J., it's your turn.
DIONNE JR.Right. I am -- Gary's a very thoughtful person, but I was disappointed that he did what so many defenders of the Electoral College are doing, which is he's acting as if there's something wrong if you're a Californian. He said, my God, if, you know, Hillary Clinton's margin comes entirely out of California, therefore, there's something defective about her popular vote margin, you know, if you drop California out, she doesn't have the popular vote lead. I could just as easily say that if we drop out all the states of the old Confederacy, Hillary Clinton wins the election by a landslide.
DIONNE JR.A vote is a vote is a vote. And the fact that many Americans voluntarily choose to move to California, often in search of economic opportunity, are they supposed to lose some of their political influence because they have chosen to move to California as opposed to Wyoming or some other state? And I think this California point that defenders of the Electoral College keep making, really underscores why it's an unfair system. There's nothing wrong with being from California.
KURTZLEBENNow, were I to make a -- were I to play Devil's Advocate to E.J., what I would say is this thing -- a great thing that a colleague of mine pointed out was the winner of the most total runs doesn't win the World Series. The person who wins the most games wins the World Series. You could lose the World Series and still have won the most runs. Now, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigned as if the electors would vote winner take all in all of those states. Had they not done it that way, they would have campaigned more in California.
KURTZLEBENThey were playing the game the way that they thought the rules were set up. And to change it now, I realize these are not set rules, but it is the norm and it is what the candidates thought going in.
DIONNE JR.Let me just flip that, and I want to give Gary, obviously, a chance to reply to me. I used a different baseball metaphor. This would be as if we determine the winner of a game not by the total number of runs scored, but by who wins how many innings and some innings count for more than other innings. I agree. They knew what the rules were going in here.
DIONNE JR.That's all true. But I think we would like baseball if it -- as much as we do, or at least I do, if it depended on the number of innings won and the eighth inning mattered way more than the third inning.
REHMAll right. Gary, I'll give you a chance to get into this baseball metaphor.
GREGGI won't get into the baseball. I'll just defend myself for the people of California. There's nothing wrong with being Californian at all. What's the difference in California is California is voting in ways that are really unrepresentative of the rest of the country. So, Hillary wins 62 percent of the popular vote in California, which is the third highest in the country. Only beat by Washington, D.C., which is she gets 91 percent and Hawaii. If you look at the battleground states, they just look more like the rest of America voted.
GREGGDown the line there, it's a close race, it's a competitive race. California gets 20 percent of the Electoral College vote needed to be President already. I think that's pretty good and offsets give us, give us other valuable things in our democracy.
REHMAll right. Now, I want to go to Centerville, Virginia. And to George. You're on the air.
GEORGEAwesome. Hello, how are you today?
GEORGEI've tried to get a hold of you for so long and I finally get you before you leave. Thank you.
GREGGWe will miss her. (interviewer laughs)
GEORGEYou make my drive a lot better and you guys really inform me and keep me in tune with everything.
GEORGEAnd I appreciate that. But my question is really, what is the point of the Electoral College? I mean, why do, why do we vote if, like with this election, the popular vote went one way but the Electoral College went the other way? It just seems like our votes don't really matter.
REHMAnd that is the heart of the issue. Should the Electoral College continue? Gary.
GREGGYeah, absolutely. I think it's, you know, it's really about the math. It's not about the electors right now. We're, we're fighting about the electors being faithless, and it's -- I'm like in some kind of a warp. For 20 years, I've been defending the Electoral College against people who have said the nightmare scenario is faithless electors. Now, so many of them want faithless electors. It's a shocking moment. But look, we get a good diverse representation across the country in these elections. They're competitive elections.
GREGGThe states matter, federalism matters in our Constitutional order. We get good diversity. It -- the concentration of power we have in this country and all the media outlets centered in our major centers -- central cities. All of -- 60 some percent of all campaign cash comes from major urban areas. The candidates, as you can see, come from major urban areas, almost all the time. And so the question is do we really want to give all votes, then, to those major urban areas and I don't think, I don't think we necessarily do.
DIONNE JR.You know, Gary again, underscores there's a fear that these big metro areas will dominate the country, even if everybody happens to be moving there. He used the word diversity. There was a very good study that showed given where minority populations are, African Americans, Latinos, in particular, they are under represented by the Electoral College system in the way it works. So, if we want diversity, let's get every kind of diversity. And the best diversity is one person, one vote determining the winner of the election.
REHMSo you would do away with the Electoral College now?
DIONNE JR.I would. I, I, I wrote a column, I think, 16 years ago and I've long believed the Electoral College was a bad system. Look, if we took seriously the vision of the founders, then the electors would be a deliberative body. They have not been a deliberative body since 1828.
REHMWho are they?
DIONNE JR.So, we get the worst of all worlds, a body which is not deliberative and it can fly in the fact of the will of the people as measured by the popular vote. And by the way, if the national popular vote is not sacred and means nothing, why suddenly does the vote in the states, the same popular vote mean so much? Obviously you can say, well, state legislatures voted to pick the electors that way. I get that, but there's a real inconsistency in this argument that we should really, really care about the popular vote in one instance and completely ignore it in the case of the nation.
KURTZLEBENRight. And I just disagreed with E.J., and now I'm going to come back and agree with him on some of these points. Because listen, I am a pretty educated person and when I have voted, I honestly don't know who these electors are. So, if (unintelligible) and Federalist 68, these electors are supposed to be the best and brightest among us, and the people that are very smart. And best know who should be leading us, I mean, I don't know if Jane Doe, who is the elector from Washington, D.C., is way smarter and better capable of doing this than I am.
KURTZLEBENThat, that is what I think is really fascinating here. We've sort of lost the spirit of the system, like E.J. was saying, the deliberative part of the system.
REHMAnd here's a tweet from Gayle, who says I live in Alabama. It always goes red. My vote for a Democratic President never counts. We are thinking of returning to Florida.
DIONNE JR.Well, there are people who, if they had any option at all, would do a residency chose the state they can live in. And that's, by the way, another criticism of the Electoral College. Which is all of the campaigning goes on in about 10 states. That if you live in Utah or Massachusetts or Alabama, you ain't never gonna see a candidate. Because they're not going to waste their time campaigning in your state. And most states are pretty clearly Republican or pretty clearly Democratic. So we don't have a national campaign. Nobody does campaign in the aforementioned California because they pretty much -- if, assume which way it's gonna go correctly.
REHMWhat would it take to do away with the Electoral College?
DIONNE JR.Well, it's not going to happen constitutionally, alas, because every small state has an interest in the current system, because they're overrepresented. And so you won't get an amendment through. There is a movement called "The National Popular Vote," which I have endorsed. Which, where state legislatures, which they can do under the Constitution, are voting to pledge their electors to the winner of the popular vote.
REHMAnd 11 states have already adopted that.
DIONNE JR.Right. And if states with a majority of the electors agreed to this compact, we would have a popular vote for President. I suspect Gary and others might sue and try to see they could actually do this. But I am hoping this happens over time. Because I don't see any hope of amending the Constitution directly, given the power of the small states.
REHMAll right, to Andrew in Chicago, Illinois. You're on the air.
ANDREWHi, thank you for taking my call. I'm so honored to be here, again, as the last caller said.
ANDREWI've just enjoyed your show so much.
ANDREWTo go back, and being from Chicago, I have reason to go back to the baseball metaphor, this year at least.
ANDREWI love the idea about the runs verses wins, because that's how it works. The other metaphor doesn't really work, because in fact, innings are not weighted. So that one doesn't really hold water.
DIONNE JR.No, but that's my point -- just so you, just to be clear, my point was it's worse than just innings won. It's innings won with some innings weighted more than others, which is what makes it similar to the Electoral College.
ANDREWRight, but innings are not weighted. So, it's not similar to the Electoral College.
REHMOkay. So go ahead.
DIONNE JR.We're going to get into ERA soon. Go ahead, sir.
ANDREWMy question is given the state of the country, or as it was being created, when the Electoral College was first put into place, the country was in a particular state. You know, as far as development, and we, you know, and since it's been put in, we have added a number of states. So, going back to the disbursement of influence, is there -- and, and trying to decide if the Electoral College should stay or go, is there anything that has happened, or is the way the country has developed since the implementation of the Electoral College, that would help to, I guess, sway people to vote?
ANDREWTo -- is there anything relevant that has changed that would negate or further support the use of an Electoral College, given...
REHMAll right. Gary, has the country changed sufficiently since the adoption of the Electoral College to make us rethink its relevance?
GREGGWell, I think we've certainly changed a lot, but we've changed the system, so the system has changed as America has changed. And that's an important point. One we can probably get behind except for these people that are now arguing for faithless electors, which is shocking to me, is we can probably get behind a decision to -- if we don't abolish the Electoral College, just abolish the role of electors. There's no reason to actually have these electors except in a break glass kind of moment when it's a real national crisis.
GREGGBut we could just automatically give the, give the electoral votes to the winner of the states and not even have to worry about this problem.
DIONNE JR.I don't -- that may, I don't know if that's an improvement, but at least it's more honest about the way the system tends to work. But I want to answer the caller's question about how the system has changed from the beginning. When the republic was established in the first census of 1790, the ratio between the smallest and the largest state, the population ratio was 13 to one. Now, the ratio between the smallest and the largest state is 67 to one. So, the difference is, across states, are even greater than they were when this system was first put in.
DIONNE JR.And the whole orientation toward the states in the first place was A, had something, there are scholars who argue it gave benefits to the slave states, but also the smaller states in order to join the union wanted incentives. We have since become a different country, but that shift in the ratio from 13 to one to 67 to one ought to give us pause. And I agree with Gary, it should give us pause about the Senate, even though the Constitution says we can't really change the Senate.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. I know you wanted to jump in, Danielle.
KURTZLEBENYeah, I mean, I would add to all of this. I can't really argue against a lot of it. What I would add in is one of the biggest changes that we've seen, and we continue to see, is the very fast, very free flow of information. You know, back when the nation was founded, your average Joe Blow, and I do say Joe very specifically, because it was only men who got to vote. White men, especially. That -- your average farmer didn't, couldn't get out a computer and learn Hillary Clinton's entire platform and Donald Trump's entire platform.
KURTZLEBENYour average voter today can sit and deliberate and think about who they want to vote for. They don't need an elector as an intermediary.
REHMAll right, and to Susan in Peoria, Illinois. You're on the air.
SUSANThank you for taking my call.
SUSANThe media is widely presenting the intrusion of the Russians in this election as an unprecedented intrusion by a foreign power. Would the presenters please discuss the Iran hostage deal brokered by George H. Bush with the Iranians to not release the American hostages prior to the election, to make President Carter seem more effective. In return for not releasing the hostages earlier, Iran was promised weapons. And the hostages were then released symbolically on inauguration day.
REHMSo, it's not the first time a foreign entity may have affected the election.
DIONNE JR.Yeah, the Iran thing is complicated. I don't want to go into all of the details there, but it's true. The Iranians held the hostages until after Ronald Reagan got inaugurated. No, foreign powers have had an interest in the outcomes of our elections for a long time. The 1940 election, you know, Phillip Roth wrote a great book, imagining an alternative history, but it was clear in the 1940 election, the Allies and the Axis, the Germans and the British, in particular, had a great interest in the outcome of our election. But we -- this is something new in terms of what is available to a foreign power through our information system.
DIONNE JR.And it's also a fact -- we know far more facts about this intervention, thanks to the intelligence agencies, and President Obama has said rightly that he's going to try to get as much information out before his term is over. And I hope, as several Senators have suggested, by both parties, there is a select committee that investigates this even more. So, but the caller has a point, that foreign powers do have an interest in the outcomes of American elections.
REHMAll right, and final comment from Jason in New Braunfels, Texas, who says trying to overturn the Electoral College vote looks really bad for Democrats. The rules are the rules. You get 270 on Election Day, you win. Discussion over, Danielle?
KURTZLEBENHonestly, listen, I am totally agnostic in this fight. Of course, as an unbiased reporter, but you know, listen, I think it is very important to note that times change. That as we were saying, population ratios change, the flow of information changes. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to argue that maybe the way that we govern changes.
REHMAll right, and we'll leave it at that. Danielle Kurtzleben, she's a reporter for NPR. E.J. Dionne, he's with the Washington Post. And Gary Gregg. He's the author of "Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College." Thank you so much.
DIONNE JR.Joy to be with you. Thank you.
KURTZLEBENYes, thank you.
GREGGThanks. Thanks, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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