Electoral College – Keep or Toss?

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
2 Comments »

electoral-college-2016By Mathew O’Neill

During the Twilight craze, the country was split between Team Edward and Team Jacob.  The battle was over Bella Swan’s heart.  Edward, a 200-year old vampire, was devastatingly handsome, kind, chivalrous, and his skin sparkled in the sun.  Jacob, a teenage werewolf, was brash, muscular, impulsive and fiercely protective of his tribe and Bella.  Oh, and Edward murdered a few thousand people but felt badly about it, while Jacob only killed vampires but had a bad mullet.  I was decidedly Team Jacob.

After the 2016 election, the country is split about the Electoral College.  There are again two camps: Team Keep and Team Toss.  Before going into the merits of each, some brief background.

As of this writing, Donald Trump won 56% to 44% in the Electoral College (290 to 232), while Hillary Clinton leads in the popular vote count 62,523,844 to 61,201,031.  So, while Trump romped to an 11-point Electoral route, he actually got clobbered by 1,322,813 votes.  What gives?  I thought this was a democracy.

This anomaly is the work of the venerated Electoral College.  The College was created in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states in part:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.  He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and representative to which the State may be entitled in Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

The 23rd Amendment granted at least three Electors to the District of Columbia, bringing to 538 the total number of current Electors: 435 Representatives, 100 Senators and the D.C. trio.

The Constitution does not direct how the states must “chuse” their Electors.  In colonial times, most states did not call for a popular election to select their Electors.  Instead, party bosses made those decisions.  Eventually the cigar-smoke cleared, and today all states and D.C. hold a general election for President and Vice President, and nearly every state (48 of 50) has chosen to award all of its Electors to the winner of that state’s popular votes.  Thus, because the margins in various states can differ (Clinton won California by 3.5 million votes; Trump won Florida by 20,000 votes), it is possible to win the Electoral College, and thus the keys to the White House and a cool plane, while at the same time lose the overall popular vote.

Which raises the question: is this acceptable? Read more »

Print Friendly



There Is Real Election Fraud (Just Not What You Think)

Posted by:
Category: Civil Rights, Election Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
1 Comment »

stamp_us_1977_3c_americanaI have been working on elections since 2000, when I helped organize a team to defend a potential recount of Wisconsin’s narrow victory for Al Gore (never happened; see Bush v. Gore).  Since 2004, I have trained thousands of attorneys to observe at polling places to ensure every eligible voter is allowed to cast a regular ballot.  That is, and should be, the only goal of our election laws: enfranchisement!

In 2005 I testified before Congress about Wisconsin’s voting laws, the lack of any actual voter fraud, and the many real administrative problems caused by running a national election in one day.  In subsequent years, I helped compile reports of Election Day issues, defended individuals accused of voting irregularities, and was part of the GAB committee to create formal rules for observers.

So, I have some background in election law.

To put it mildly, I was surprised to hear a candidate for President state: “Voter fraud is very, very common.”  Not just common, but VERY, VERY common.

The statement, if meant to suggest rampant fraudulent voting, is categorically false.  Fraudulent conduct by voters is exceedingly rare.  A comprehensive study published in 2014 confirmed 31 cases of in-person voter fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than a billion votes.  In stark numerical terms, that is one act of fraud for every 32 million votes.  When defending Wisconsin’s harsh Voter ID law, the State “could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”  Frank v. Walker.  In other words, voter fraud is very, very, very uncommon.

There is, however, an election fraud that has become common in the past decade: the suggestion that voting laws need to be tightened to combat voter fraud.  This is the BIG LIE. It has been used across the country to justify a stunning array of laws designed to make it harder to vote. Read more »

Print Friendly



Remember Us?

Posted by:
Category: Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
Leave a Comment »

It was a long time coming, but Wisconsin seems to have finally regained its “key battleground state” status in this year’s presidential election. At least for the moment, anyway.  For much of this election cycle, we’ve been missing out on the action, a second tier state that Democrats believed would be theirs on Election Day, never seriously in jeopardy.

If it takes two to tango, Wisconsin has been missing a dance partner.  While Republican nominee Donald Trump has been to Wisconsin five times, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton hasn’t been here once. It might be argued that given Clinton’s struggles in Wisconsin—a crushing primary loss in 2008 to then-Sen. Barack Obama and a 2016 April primary defeat which saw her lose 71 of 72 counties to Sen. Bernie Sanders—surrogates like Sanders and Chelsea Clinton might be more effective campaigners than the nominee herself. Whatever the reason, Clinton has focused her personal attention on other states. Her campaign only recently began running ads in Wisconsin, a true indicator of a state’s relative importance in the election.

But if you believe recent public opinion surveys in the first tier battleground states of North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio, the race has tightened considerably.  Wednesday, Real Clear Politics released its latest Electoral College “No Toss Ups” Map. Using the latest state-by-state polling, Clinton would squeeze out the narrowest of victories in the Electoral College, 273 votes for her, 265 for Trump.  Read more »

Print Friendly



The Polling Ends; Now Do Your Duty and Vote, Franklin Says

Posted by:
Category: Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
Leave a Comment »

It was the final release of Marquette Law School Poll results before the Nov. 8 election. That means Wednesday’s “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program attracted a lot of attention from news organizations and aficionados of understanding politics in Wisconsin and beyond.

That means that the reputation of the Law School poll, which has been built on a great record since 2012 of being very close to the mark in calling elections, is about to be put to the test again. The comparison between the final results and the actual outcome of an election is taken by many (not always fairly) as the measure of a poll.

And that means that Charles Franklin, the director of the Law School Poll and professor of law and public policy, had a few broader thoughts to share at the session in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall.    Read more »

Print Friendly



We Need More Than Equality

Posted by:
Category: Civil Rights, Human Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, Uncategorized
Leave a Comment »

girl_blowing_soap_bubblesOver the past few months, I’ve tried to wrap my brain around the multitude of complex issues that have occurred between police officers and people of color within the United States. From my recollection, it seemed like every other day there was a new incident involving an unarmed black man being gunned down by individuals who are sworn to protect the public: the police. Whenever the news of these incidents were revealed to the public, I noticed friends, family, and strangers all begin to take sides as to who they believed was either right or wrong in this situation (involving the police and the individual who was shot). Through social media and conversations with peers, I’ve observed people pick “sides,” such as, “Blue Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” When I observed people use these phrases to justify their stance on life (and which lives matter), I began to establish my own thoughts about how we as a society ought to view life from a metaphysical standpoint. Within this essay, I will first illustrate the significance of the fact that humans are social beings. Second, I will illustrate the importance of sympathy and empathy for social beings like humans. Third, I will argue that human life is precious and that it ought to be appreciated and celebrated uniformly with all human life.

Humans are social beings. We are dependent upon our experiences within the world and with other human beings. Our experiences are important because they help shape our ideas and beliefs; they also allow for us to understand our surroundings as well as other people. For instance, you could not place a new born baby in a room by itself for its entire life and expect it to develop into a human being who can properly rationalize and truly understand what is going on around it. We need other human beings in order to thrive and live. As social beings who learn from experience, hopefully in some capacity during our lifetime, we learn to develop sympathy and empathy. The hope is that we are given the opportunity to have enough experiences in order to indirectly or directly relate to another human being. I’m sure you’ve heard the old phrase: “We fear what we do not know.” A majority of the time, that statement is true because we often don’t fear the things we thoroughly understand (with some exceptions of course). When we fail to sympathize or empathize with another individual who has/had different experiences than us, we occasionally resort to stereotypes and make assumptions. We can learn so much from other people when we listen, rather than immediately resorting to various preconceived notions. Sympathy and empathy wouldn’t be important if we were not the social beings that we are. We rely on others to live and, arguably, could not survive without other human beings. Read more »

Print Friendly



Calling 911 in the Wake of Police Violence

Posted by:
Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Law & Process, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Poverty & Law, Public, Race & Law
Leave a Comment »

black_lives_matter_sign_-_minneapolis_protest_22632545857Amanda Seligman is a Visiting Fellow in Law and Public Policy at Marquette University Law School.

How does racially-tinged police violence toward civilians affect city residents’ willingness to summon aid in an emergency? A study in the October 2016 American Sociological Review asks what happened to the number of 911 calls after the public revelation that off-duty white Milwaukee police officers beat Frank Jude in 2004. In “Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community,” Matthew Desmond, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David S. Kirk find that in the year after the initial publicity around the beating, Milwaukee residents placed 22,000 fewer 911 calls than might have been expected, resulting in a total of 110,000 calls. Although white neighborhoods saw a spike in 911 calls and then a long but shallow dip, the loss of calls was especially pronounced in black neighborhoods. The authors found no such loss of calls reporting traffic accidents.

Desmond et al.’s 911 study received extensive mass media coverage. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams wrote about the study in The Atlantic, and the New York Times’sThe Upshot” column reported the findings. The study was the subject of two articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one reporting on the findings and one offering responses from District Attorney John Chisholm and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. Two of the authors, Desmond and Papachristos, also published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times commenting on the significance of their research. A small host of other reports suggest broad interest in the study’s implications in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread coverage of police shootings of African American civilians.

Sociologist Desmond is one of our most thoughtful observers of the cultural significance of the 911 emergency call system. In Evicted, his 2015 ethnographic study of housing and poverty in Milwaukee, Desmond observed how victims of domestic violence put themselves at risk for losing their homes if they call the police too often. Read more »

Print Friendly



Elections, the Holocaust, and the Senate Debate: Glimpses of Three Law School Events

Posted by:
Category: Election Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette
1 Comment »

Glimpses of three important events in recent days at Marquette Law School:

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is less than four months old and so far it has made only two major decisions, each supported by all six members. Will the new body, created to take over the election oversight role previously played by the state’s Government Accountability Board, be a steady and responsible force for conducting elections well and avoid partisan divisions?

During  an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Wednesday (Oct. 26, 2016), two of the leaders of the commission conveyed a message of professionalism and commitment to doing the jobs well . They also expressed general confidence in the quality of election practices in Wisconsin.

But Mark Thomsen, chairman of the commission and a Milwaukee lawyers, and Don Millis, a commissioner who is a lawyer from the Madison area, outlined some of the difficult and controversial issues that they face this fall and beyond, such as handling of voter identification requirements  and early voting, and showed some differences between them that reflect their own partisanship. Read more »

Print Friendly



How Did We Get Here?

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
1 Comment »

Part Six of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In an age where the presidential vote is relatively close, a two-party system dominates politics, and the average voter recognizes that voting for an independent/splinter candidate has no real shot at electoral success, is this really what the framers intended in 1787 when drafting the Constitution of the United States?

Doubtful.

Not only was the Electoral College system problematic almost from the moment it left the starting block, but the election process has grown more complicated, more winner-takes-all, and more divisive than perhaps the delegates could ever have imagined.

For instance, in 1797, Ththomas_jefferson_by_rembrandt_peale_1800omas Jefferson, the then-sitting Vice President, wrote a letter to his colleague, Edward Rutledge, in which Jefferson reported that the mood of the nation’s capital had become politically divisive:

“The passions are too high at present, to be cooled in our day. You & I have formerly seen warm debates and high political passions. But gentlemen of different politics would then speak to each other, & separate the business of the Senate from that of society. It is not so now. Men who have been intimate all their lives, cross the streets to avoid meeting, & turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch their hats. This may do for young men with whom passion is enjoyment. But it is afflicting to peaceable minds. Tranquility is the old man’s milk.” (Jefferson to Rutledge, June 24, 1797, in Jefferson, Papers, 29:456-57.)

Does Jefferson’s report of a political divide — in 1797! — sound familiar when looking at today’s election debate?

Read more »

Print Friendly



The Teachings of Elections Past

Posted by:
Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
1 Comment »

john_quincy_adams_-_copy_of_1843_philip_haas_daguerreotypePart Five of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In the run-up to Election Day, maps of the United States will be colored in as red or blue. This so-called “electoral map” is the focus of all the debate, particularly for the presidency, with pundits asking what color the “swing states” will shade. Of course, the maps don’t show green, purple, or even different tints of red or blue. There are only two colors, red or blue. So why is that?

Without getting too far in the weeds, as it were, and from a political science view, the shading is based on the “winner-takes-all” principle. One party wins and everyone else loses. When a party loses, that party is without representation. Weaker parties are pressured to join a more dominant party in hopes of gaining a voice. This leads to party-dominance. Voters learn that, because of party dominance, voting for a third party candidate is ineffectual to the result, and hence alignment into a two-party race between winners and losers.

And, in terms of the presidency, by devising a system of “electors” as opposed to popular vote, history teaches us that an indirect electoral-election scheme can lead to odd results.

The elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive at least a plurality of the nationwide popular vote. What did this mean? It meant that in 2000, Al Gore received 543,895 more popular votes than George Bush, yet lost the election. The same was true for Samuel J. Tilden (New York) losing to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Grover Cleveland (New York), the incumbent President, losing to Benjamin Harrison (Indiana) in 1888.

There is also tie-breaker history. Per the Twelfth Amendment, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) to win the presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes in the election, the election is determined by the House of Representatives. The House chooses the President from one of the top three presidential electoral vote-winners. (A run-off vote for Vice President belongs to the Senate.)

As to a run-off presidential vote, this has happened only once since 1804. Read more »

Print Friendly



ACS Panel Explains Voting Rights Litigation in Wisconsin

Posted by:
Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
Leave a Comment »

img_5794-meOn October 20, I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion at the Law School devoted to Voting Rights Litigation in Wisconsin.  The event was co-sponsored by the Marquette University Law School Student Chapter of the American Constitution Society and the Milwaukee Chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS). A crowd of approximately 60 persons witnessed a lively presentation on the right to vote under the U.S. Constitution, recent legislation in Wisconsin that places burdens on the ability of some people to vote in our State, and the status of litigation in the federal courts challenging these state laws.

The event began with a welcome from the Chair of the Milwaukee Chapter of the ACS, Attorney Craig Mastantuono.  Attorney Mastantuono began with a description of the mission of the American Constitution Society and the benefits of membership.  He also noted the excellent timing of the day’s event, given the attention currently being given to the integrity of the American voting system.  Then Attorney Mastantuono introduced the Mayor of Milwaukee, the Honorable Tom Barrett.

Mayor Barrett began his remarks by providing the Marquette University law students in attendance with a bit of career advice: namely, the importance of being nice to your colleagues in the workplace.  Turning to topic of the federal judiciary, Mayor Barrett criticized lawmakers who impose litmus tests on judicial appointees, in a misguided attempt to ensure that there is “only one type of thinking in our court system.”  Mayor Barrett also expressed his disappointment in the fact that Wisconsin is no longer a national leader in ensuring access to the ballot, and criticized recent state laws that have made it more difficult to vote in the City of Milwaukee.  Finally, while he touted the benefits of early voting as a means of improving ballot access, the Mayor explained that there are limits to the City’s ability to expand the early voting process due to the City’s interest in maintaining a well-administered voting process. Read more »

Print Friendly



The School Of Electoral College

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
Leave a Comment »

Part Four of a Six Part serwashington_constitutional_convention_1787ies on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts mentioned party-politics as having emerged during the Constitutional debate — in the framing days of the late eighteenth century, delegates began aligning along federalist and anti-federalist divides. Alignment shaped the compromise that became the Constitution of the United States, with the process of choosing the President — indirectly through electors — an example of compromise at work.

The compromised solution was complicated. Rather than allowing election by the populous or allowing Congress to choose the position, each state was given a number of “electors” and these electors would vote for the President.

Each state was left to determine the manner of selecting their electors, thus allowing the states a role in choosing the president. The electors would choose the president on the same day, all in an effort to even the playing field, as it were, in election and governance.

So how did it work, at least initially?

It was a problem.

Read more »

Print Friendly



Whom Do I Want As My King?

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized
1 Comment »

2014_1006_1024px-mount_rushmore2_largePart Three of a series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts discussed the lead-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and provided context to the debate over the American system of government. Here is further context.  For a more in depth discussion and a great read — upon which much of this blog finds its genesis — look to Ray Raphael’s book Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012).

I begin with the delegates. Think of it like this: If you were a wealthy American landowner in the late eighteenth century, and held a position of prominence for some time, you probably wanted to ensure that, whatever government governed, your status remained unchanged. Should not your vote count a little more than someone else? Can we really let the people select of our elected officials?

On these basic questions the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were either conflicted, or outright opposed. As Roger Sherman, the representative from Connecticut proclaimed, “The people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information and are constantly liable to be misled.” On the flip side was Alexander Hamilton who touted the “genius of the people” in qualifying the electorate.

Basically, even if a Constitutional Convention delegate agreed to a national government and an “executive branch” to that government, he still had open questions as to what should it look like, how much power it would have, and who would decide the person/persons for such an office.

So how did the delegates get from point A to point B? First, the delegates took the unusual move of calling for secrecy in their debates, something unheard of then and which continues to be a source of confounding discussion even in today’s society; in 1787, and as often argued today, the delegates wanted the freedom to speak freely.

Second, the delegates used England’s King George III as a counter-point to an executive. They wanted no part of a monarchy, or despotic leader, yet needed the executive position to have some teeth so that it would be recognized internationally and complement intra-national needs. Read more »

Print Friendly