Chaos Theory, Electoral College edition

SOCTUS-BldgA reader sent me a note asking whether a Supreme Court decision in favor of state laws governing Faithless Electors would make my thriller obsolete.
Sadly (for the nation)–No.

There would remain exploitable weaknesses—indeed, the very ones that are the linchpin of the plot in Faithless Elector would remain in place.

The vote can be suborned. I’ll explain.

The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments regarding state-level Faithless Elector laws in Colorado and Washington State on May 13, 2020. At stake was whether state laws that bound Electors to vote as they pledged were Constitutional. They should issue their ruling in the coming weeks. (For much more background on this, including the relevant precedents, check out the Faithless Elector Argument Preview, posted on the SCOTUS-Blog. It’s informative, and not over-burdened with legalese.)

During oral arguments back in May, the Justices seemed keen to avoid electoral “chaos.” The chaos the Justices seem to want to avoid is that of Electors willfully or frivolously breaking their pledges. But even if the Court rules in favor of the state laws, the Electoral College vote will remain susceptible of being altered. (538.com does a nice job of contextualizing as well.)

According to FairVote.org, along with those states with Faithless Elector laws, there are a total of 32 states that have no such laws. In that absence, Electors are therefore free actors.

2020-FE-no-penalty

 

Of the 32 states with no laws against an Elector breaking his/her pledge, 15 states (representing 144 Electoral College votes – light green on the map above) have no penalty whatsoever, while another 17 states are regarded as “safer,” or less likely to defect, even though they also have no such laws, because they have a strong, party-based vetting process. These states (gray on the map) represent 181 EC votes.

The question, then, is not whether the upcoming Supreme Court ruling will deal with willful petulance and protest votes. It seems likely that in upholding Washington and Colorado’s laws–if that’s how they rule–will deal with it. Up to a point.

Beyond that point, however, it means that there are 325 Electors who might be susceptible to voting against their pledge. No one is suggesting that all would vote against their pledge.

But in Faithless Elector, there is a very thin margin of victory for one candidate. Only three Electoral votes are needed to alter the outcome. In the real world, if the 32 states without laws against breaking an electoral pledge do nothing more to pass their own laws, and conspirators like those in my book were to target Electors in those states, they could reverse the supposed outcome of the presidential race.

It’s true that those who have been through party vetting would be far less likely to vote against their pledge. But for those who have read Faithless, you know that there are always inroads bad actors can make, and that fake news, fake voter fraud, corruption and murder, all figure into the Faithless conspirators’ equation to get the “right man” into the White House.

Chaos indeed. And worse.

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The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

NetGalley-EmgPwrs

 

You can check out and review Emergency Powers for free on NetGalley.

 

 

_JMc-contact20Find them all through BookShop.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books, or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

Supreme Court to hear #FaithlessElector arguments this month

SOCTUS-BldgThe Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments on May 13 about the constitutionality of Faithless Elector laws established by the states, and it will deliver an opinion this summer.

At stake is whether Electors are independent actors, or are bound by the laws of their respective states.

Until very recently, most scholars seemed to agree that if the question came before the Court, the Court would rule that Electors were free to choose according to their individual consciences, which is what the Electoral College was intended for. Indeed, the schism between what has come to seem customary and how things actually work was the dramatic–and dire!–premise of my 2016 thriller, Faithless Elector. Now it seems less clear. And even when viewed through a so-called States Rights lens (which this court might tend to favor), the potential gains are actually muddled.

Those who seek to preserve the Electoral College–in which the people of the United States do not vote directly for the president or vice-president–want to preserve an institution that has twice since the turn of the century delivered Republican candidates who lost in the popular vote–Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016. But such people should be careful what they wish for.

If the states prevail and the Court finds that Electors may be bound, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV) will have more teeth in it. The core of the NPV is that states can direct their Electors to vote for whomever the national vote winner is, irrespective of the result in the state. States could also argue, as the plaintiffs before the Court do, that states would also be free to direct Electors not to vote for anyone who had, say, failed to provide his tax returns. Or not for one who was divorced, or an adulterer. We’re talking about state legislatures making these rules, after all.

The high court has never weighed in before because until the 2016 election no Elector had been penalized for voting against his/her pledge. No one had “standing” to bring a claim. Now they do. The Court is taking this case ahead of the upcoming election because adjudicating it in the heat of an election (or after the fact!) would be disastrous for the nation.

As I’ve pointed out on this blog elsewhere, the Electoral College was a compromise, one that most assumed would be ironed out in the fullness of time.

I fear that the Court’s decision won’t provide clarity, but will solidify an archaic system and add to the bitter acrimony already festering.

The Faithless Elector Argument Preview, posted on the SCOTUS-Blog is informative, and not over-burdened with legalese.

#   #   #

The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.

NetGalley-EmgPwrs

The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) . You can check out Emergency Powers for free on NetGalley.

 

_JMc-contact20

Find them all through BookShop.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

Preparing for Crisis

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On March 21st, The Hill and NBC, among others, reported that the DOJ was asking Congress for emergency powers during the COVID-19 Crisis. This leapt out at me, as I imagine it did a lot of Americans, who are strongly in favor of the rule of law, and habeas corpus, and who are aghast at the undermining of Constitutional prerogatives. But in seeking “emergency powers” AG Barr was also making use of the title of my new thriller (due out Oct. 1, 2020), called Emergency Powers.

DOJ-EmgPwrCentral to the thriller’s action (which I began writing in the spring of 2017) is a corrupted DOJ, a pliant Attorney General and a power-mad president who chips away at the underlying foundation of government. It’s up to FBI Agent Imogen Trager—unsure whom she can trust in the Bureau—to see that this crisis is not compounded.

And in the novel, the crisis the president and his cabal create will allow him to invoke emergency powers, and increase his grip on power. While the fictional crisis is much different from our current situation, politicians and policy people are fond of noting that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It’s the heart of the story.

But in order not to waste the crisis opportunity, those who seek advantage must first be prepared, must have laid the groundwork. For Imogen Trager in the thriller, and for us in real life, it’s instructive to look at what has been prepared.

The dictum about never wasting a crisis is generally attributed to Rahm Emanuel, but it was first uttered by Stanford economist Paul Romer, and it echoes the political scientist, John Kingdon’s notion of “policy windows” and “policy entrepreneurs.”

These shifts can end up being positive, or negative. The point is that a set of policy entrepreneurs has an agenda, and that policy change comes about when the three streams of problems, politics, and policies connect. To gain advantage, they must be prepared ahead of time.

In the 1930’s, FDR responded to the Depression with the New Deal policies. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the “W” Bush administration hurried through its war-on-terror agenda, which included the Patriot Act, pre-emptive war with Iraq and enhanced interrogation. The Trump administration seems inward focused, bent on eroding Constitutional prerogatives. It’s disquieting to see what this administration has been preparing in the background.

Emergency Powers is the third book in the Imogen Trager thriller series, which began with Faithless Elector and Dark Network. As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, I’ve been doing what could be called Kingdonian plot entrepreneurism.”

That is, rather than react and respond in a ripped-from-the-headlines manner, I’ve looked at the broader state of our democracy and thought forward: “How might it be made worse?” “What are the forces behind this decline?” and “What would it take to subvert those machinations?”

And, I’ve asked myself whether it could be stopped…

#   #   #

 

The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

_JMc-contact20

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

Anything But Straightforward

For the Electoral College, the way forward is anything but straightforward.

In the 1796 presidential election, when one elector, Samuel Miles, who was pledged to Adams (Federalist candidate) changed his mind and voted for Jefferson (Democratic-Republican candidate), Federalist party members were outraged.

Samuel Miles-elector

Samuel Miles

One wrote, “Do I choose Samuel Miles to determine for me whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson shall be President? No, I choose him to act, not to think.”

This has been the central question for the Electoral College for over 200 years, since the rise of national parties.

A scant four years ago, Faithless Elector debuted, and it’s been thrilling and challenging readers ever since. Its combination of strong characters pitted against forces larger than themselves resonated then, and it continues to do so now.  FaithlessElector-cvrAgainst the backdrop of a very close presidential race, the novel asks, “What if?”

What if Electors could be lobbied and bought? What if a group of ruthless conspirators saw a way to upend an election for their own gain? How far would the conspiracy go to keep the machinations quiet?

The questions FBI Agent Imogen Trager, Duncan Calder and Matthew Yamashita are forced to confront as they risk everything to uncover who’s behind the conspiracy and stop it, haven’t just remained salient, they have become more relevant.

Who decides the presidency?

Since Faithless Elector’s publication, we have witnessed the election of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote, but won in the Electoral College (the second president to so this century). Into the bargain, in 2016 we had seven (7!) Faithless Elector defections. Now, at the end of April, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against so-called Faithless Elector laws in the states.

At stake, and the central plot point for the characters trying to save the presidency, is whether Electors are regarded as independent actors or mere delegates. That debate is over 200 years old.

The Supreme Court will decide, but as the twists and turns of Faithless Elector show–and the articles below demonstrate–the way forward is anything but straightforward. It’s unlikely any single group will be happy with the Court’s decision. Whatever it is.

 

Why do We Have an Electoral College Again?(NYTimes)

What if We Just Counted Up All the Votes for President and Saw Who Won? (NYTimes)

The Electoral College is long past its sell-by date… (NYTimes)

How to—Carefully—Surmount the Electoral College (Atlantic):

The Chaos Coming for the U.S. Election (Atlantic):

The Imogen Trager Thrillers at a glance:

trilogy-draft

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

#   #   #

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

_JMc-contact20

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com