Hamilton electors. Faithless electors.
Whatever you called them, an effort that was ostensibly launched to thwart Donald Trump from becoming president ultimately cost Hillary Clinton more electoral votes than Trump. Twice as many, as a matter of fact. Four Washington state electors defected from Clinton, with only two in Texas defecting from Trump. A few other electors also tried to refuse their pledged votes against Clinton, though they were quickly replaced by alternates who then voted for Clinton.
This isn't a surprising outcome. America's founding institutions were, above all, two things: a compromise between slave states and free states, and a guardrail against direct democracy. When our Constitution was written, only one half of one branch of the federal government - the US House - was to have been directly elected by the people. The Senate was to have been selected by legislatures of the various states, and the president through electors. Further, the Supreme Court, other judicial nominees, other officers of the United States government and even treaties was to have been a collaboration between the two non-popularly selected institutions: the president and the Senate.
With the advent of more national reach of newspapers and other media, the need to guard against popular elections ended. In 1913 - a full 125 years after the Constitution was adopted almost 50 years after the abolition of slavery - the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution was enacted to elect Senators by a direct vote of the people in the respective states. For some reason, no such reform was ever made to the selection process of the president. Perhaps such reforms are due in 2038, when it will be 125 years since the Senate was reformed.
Present day presidential electors are no more enlightened, informed or patriotic than the reactionary electorates in their states. Whether there are legal justifications for not holding electors to the votes of their states, the people who are appointed electors are every bit as political, partisan and ideological as anyone. Today, the electoral college is an institution as politicized and partisan as any, and if we have learned anything from modern politics, it is that Republicans make far more loyal partisans than Democrats.
The Democratic "faithless electors" who contravened the will of the voters in the state of Washington could not have been motivated by an attempt to stop Donald Trump. They could not have hoped to inspire fellow electors in other states. By the time Washington state electors voted on the west coast, Trump had likely already reached the number required to be formally selected president.
For these Democratic electors, then, it stands to reason that however they started, their end goal became to fruitlessly challenge the system rather than blocking Donald Trump's path.
Therein lies the Democrats' biggest mistake. Of course, we should at every turn publicly challenge the legitimacy of Donald Trump and his victory in an antiquated, slave-era contest structure while losing the popular vote by 3 million. But we undermining our own nominee will not help. The problem with the electoral college is not that its electors are bound by their respective states' popular vote.
Our argument against the electoral college should center around its origin in similar context as the three-fifths compromise, its propensity to severely undermine the principle of one-citizen-one-vote, and the oversized importance it places on ethnocentric minorities in economically unproductive, sparsely populated areas. We should make a strong argument that economically booming, culturally diverse, production centers of America - our cities - should take the central role in electing our president for no reason other than that is where Americans live.
Democrats then must put these principles into practice. Hillary Clinton won large urban population centers even in red states, and at least in enough states, slightly strengthening her margins in those areas would have delivered the electoral college to her.
Democrats must get in the mud. Democrats must play in this system. We must subjugate the electoral college to the national popular will - not by creating 'faithless electors', and not by attempting to appease rural racists - but by shoring up our urban base. This means getting those voters IDs where required. This means getting them registered. This means being at every urban school district meeting, at every neighborhood watch meeting, at every local festival.
Only then can we thwart the Right's southern strategy gone national.