Supporters of Ron Paul have often vowed to write in the name of Ron Paul if the Republican Party does not nominate him for President. But write-in campaigns cannot succeed in Presidential elections. Election officials throw out write-in votes, so that those who cast them well and truly waste them. One might as well not vote at all, and in that event Barack H. Obama could get his second term. Only a systematic reform of the way States appoint Presidential Electors can solve this problem.
How the USA picks a President
The Constitution of the United States says that voters do not vote directly for Presidential candidates. Article II set up the Electoral College. Each State sends as many members to it as the total number of Senators and Representatives it sends. (The District of Columbia sends three more.) Electors meet in their States and vote for one person to be President and another to be Vice-President.
The Constitution says that each State appoints electors “in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” (The District of Columbia appoints electors “in such manner as Congress may direct.”) For the first Presidential election, all the electors sought the office under their own names, and each voted his own conscience. But when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison started the first political party, they changed that system. Now each Party nominates slates of elector-candidates to run for the elector slots in each State (and DC). No one knows their names. They know only the candidates for President and Vice-President that these electors pledge to vote for.
Why write-in campaigns for President cannot work
So what can a voter do, if he “doesn’t like any of the choices on the ballot?” For any other election, he can write in a name that he chooses. But consider what happens in a Presidential Electors race. Who nominates the slate of elector-candidates who pledge to vote for a write-in candidate? Answer: no one. Not a single State Division of Elections will send Presidential Electors to the Electoral College to vote for a write-in candidate for President or Vice-President. Instead, the Elections Division will throw those write-in votes away. They must. Someone must nominate elector-candidates in advance for every candidate whose name appears on the ballot.
How to solve the problem
To solve the problem, the people must first understand that the people elect Presidential Electors, and Electors elect Presidents and Vice-Presidents. So the people should insist that States stop pretending that the people vote directly for Presidential candidates. To do that, States must stop putting Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates’ names on the ballot. They should instead put the names of the elector-candidates on the ballot.
Then each Party would nominate its elector-candidates as they do today. But now the ballot would show those names, and instruct the voter to do one of two things:
- Vote for as many Elector-candidates as the State or District may appoint. (For example, in New Jersey, “Presidential Electors: vote for fourteen.”)
- Vote for two Electors-At-Large, and one Elector from the voter’s House district. This is almost like how voters in Maine choose Presidential electors today.
Now the voter who “doesn’t like the choices” can write in the name(s) of any Elector(s) whom he or she would like to choose instead. Anyone (whom the Constitution does not disqualify, that is) could stump the State and say, “Vote for me for Presidential Elector.” If they can get on the ballot, fine. If not, they can set up a write-in campaign. Then write-in votes would count.
This reform would let voters choose electors for their choice for President or Vice-President. It would even let a group of voters nominate a slate of uncommitted electors. George Washington became President after a College of uncommitted electors unanimously voted for him. So yes, this country has done it before, and can do it again.
The Election of 2012 frustrates many people. They want a choice, and they don’t think that Mitt Romney offers them a choice. True enough: Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan.
But a write-in campaign would defeat the purpose. It would do nothing but register a protest. It would be the same as “boycotting the election,” as people sometimes do in other countries. But this rule is as true today as it was when this editor first heard it in the 1960’s:
Vote, and the choice is yours. Don’t vote, and the choice is theirs.
But the write-in campaign has shown a serious flaw in the way this country elects Presidents and Vice-Presidents. People have forgotten why Presidents must “carry” States (or the District of Columbia, or the two House districts of Maine). They have forgotten the step between their vote and the swearing-in of a President: the Electoral College. And no wonder! The Electoral College is a mere rubber stamp for the major parties.
States should put elector-candidates’ names on the ballots. Then write-in votes would count. And the people would get back what they lost beginning in 1800: a meaningful role in choosing their national leaders.