I was in a meeting in November of last year for the TU Election Initiative when the idea of a webinar open to all students and faculty was floated. Several topics were discussed before we settled for something relevant at the time: the Electoral College. Scheduling the webinar for late January, we figured the institution would be a good topic to keep students engaged and give them an opportunity to field questions to experts (we got three experts to attend: Gary Gregg, John Fortier, and James Pfiffer). I volunteered to moderate the Q&A portion, giving myself a front-row seat and facilitating discussion between the panelists and the Trinity community. The only thing I worried about was that students would be disengaged by the time of the webinar, and there would be scant interest.
That changed when the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building on January 6, the day Congress was to certify the electoral votes and cement Joe Biden as the 46th President. While the Electoral College was not front and center in news coverage following the riot, I was hopeful that interest in the Electoral College in the Trinity community was revamped. I saw that that was the case when well over 50 students, faculty, and staff attended the webinar.
Each of the experts took around 15-20 minutes explaining their positions and opinions on the Electoral College. Each discussed the Electoral College history, why it is the way it is, and possible reforms (e.g., the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact). After they were finished, I took over as moderator and fielded as many questions as I could. I have to give credit to the audience for asking many tough and insightful questions, such as asking about the compatibility of alternative voting systems (e.g., ranked-choice voting) with the Electoral College and any possible bias toward red/blue states. I was impressed with the number of questions that were asked, but I could only get to so many before the webinar was over.
Overall, I think the webinar went very well. The attendance rate, the expertise offered, and the questions asked prove that the Electoral College factors heavily in people’s minds when they think about politics and voting. Additionally, it is still a controversial institution with serious efforts being mounted to reform or abolish it, although the Electoral College is probably not going away anytime soon. That means we have to continue to have conversations, discussions, and debates about the future of the Electoral College because the institution is more than a method of picking the next president. It represents what kind of republic we want and what values we prioritize.
Any attempt to reform the Electoral College will bring seismic changes to American politics and government, and we have to take these reforms seriously and discuss them. And it always helps to remember our history and know-how the Electoral College has shaped the presidency and how it continues to function today. Its future is certainly up in the air but based on what I saw during the webinar, and I am confident that we will find a way to make the institution more democratic while preserving the republican principles this country was founded on.