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

 

 

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…

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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) .

_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

 

Happy 4th Birthday to Faithless Elector!

FE-birthday

March 14, 2016

Four years ago today, I received the final proof copy of Faithless Elector from the printer. Thank you to everyone who has supported and taken part in a thrilling journey!

It’s one that continues with Dark Network, and the soon-to-be published EMERGENCY POWERS (Oct. 1), which will finish the series. Though focused on Imogen Trager’s struggles, the books have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel: a jaded, cynical electorate, a fractious FBI, an undermined Attorney General, powerful people exploiting the rule of law for their own gain. (There’s even a prison murder made to look like a suicide.) But the books are more than headlines about things people think they know. And darker.

They are tense, #NoirPolitik thrillers about corruption, murder and ultimately a kind of redemption, achieved at enormous personal cost for the feisty heroine, FBI Agent Imogen Trager and those around her.

Back in those seemingly innocent Spring days of early 2016, no one could be sure who the candidates would be. I made a conscious choice to use fictional candidates. While I hoped the book’s topicality in the run-up to the election would help it stand apart from the hundreds of other political thrillers out there (it did!), I didn’t want it to be a broadside–about one real party or candidate trying to steal the election.

It was important that readers see the larger themes of power politics and not automatically view the events through the divisive prism of the primaries. The story would suffer under the weight of pre-existing views. I wanted the book to express a broader dilemma about the real-world consequences of democratic deficiency. I’m gratified that readers have seemed to embrace this part of the book. The story appeals to conservatives and liberals alike because it’s about all of us.

The key to Faithless Elector was that in a close Electoral College race, it would not take much to tip the scales. A disciplined, well-funded group could undermine and hijack the parties–and the will of the people. It was a danger then, and the danger remains potent now. Moreover, the novel’s plot hinges on the actions of ordinary citizens thrust into extraordinary circumstances, forced to act, forced to risk everything for their belief in democracy.

Since its publication on March 23, 2016, Faithless Elector has found a readership, for which I am deeply grateful. I’ve had correspondence from all over the US, the UK and Australia. Most of it has been very positive (some of it alarmingly CAPS LOCK hostile, but those folks were never actual readers).

I’ve had two readers who reached out to me and identified themselves as real Electors. One, himself a professor, felt events in the book were a little too close for his comfort: he wrote to me that one night, he, like the fictional Professor Calder, was working late at the university. The sudden sounds of slamming doors and footsteps echoing through his building unnerved him. He decided to finish his work at home that night.

I have heard from other readers that the book has ruined parking garages for them. They can no longer view them as just ugly features on the landscape, but as fraught with danger. Graduate students and academics have told me they enjoyed the portrayals of Calder and Matthew and university life. I’ve loved meeting readers–in person and online–and I’ve had wonderful questions at the readings and book talks I’ve done, as well as passionate appeals to bring back certain relatively minor characters. (I’ll do what I can!)

Here’s to Imogen and Duncan, and as always, Matthew!

The Imogen Trager Thrillers at a glance:

trilogy-draft

Faithless ElectorEveryone 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

A Split Ticket Presidential Bid

Joe Biden’s little remarked claim that he would consider a Republican running mate (CNN-12/30/2019) came and went during the Christmas-New Year week. This kind of Statesman seeming, half-measure is at the heart of the latest #NoirPolitik Imogen Trager thriller, EMERGENCY POWERS, due out October 1, 2020, and it sets in motion a series of disastrous events.Biden-Repub-runningmate-scrnshot

I expect that Biden was just hoping to generate some headlines during a slow news week, but a bipartisan ticket would probably only serve to dilute and confuse the issues facing the nation. Political party matters, particularly at the national level. Senators and Congress Reps vote with their party more than 90 percent of the time*.

FE3.Pawn-to-King.w copyDespite our claims as voters that we want our representatives to act independently, we would be aghast if a politician actually did vote that way. We certainly don’t. 90 to 95% of registered Democrats will vote for their party’s nominee*, as will the same number of registered Republican voters.

In the forthcoming Emergency Powers, as in Faithless Elector and Dark Network, there are forces at work outside of—and parasitic upon—the major parties. But they are effective (in the books, and some would say in real life) because these extra-party groups have captured the party’s leadership.

Though focused on Imogen’s struggles, and without being about current leadership, each book continues to have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel:  a fractious FBI, an undermined Attorney General, powerful people using all manner of treachery to maintain their hold on power—and to get more. And in Emergency Powers, the key to re-establishing faith in government and the rule of law was a Statesman-seeming compromise, a bipartisan ticket. But the conspirators aren’t satisfied. They’re avaricious and mean to control every lever of power.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say “ripped-from-the-headlines,” but anticipating them?

The Imogen Trager series demystifies the processes at work. The previous novels dealt with Faithless Electors as possibly corrupt actors in a presidential election (Faithless Elector in early 2016) and a factional FBI eating itself from within in Dark Network (2017). At the center of it all is the feisty Agent Imogen Trager, who will do battle with the conspirators, her own demons–and even her own colleagues.

What insights into real events will Emergency Powers bring?

 

In EMERGENCY POWERS (Oct. 2020) 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.

Imogen is haunted—and sidelined—by a case she couldn’t solve. When the president dies in office, she knows that the conspiracy she chased down a blind alley still has life in it—and she needs to get back in the hunt. The new accidental president is no accident, and the old case may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to finalize the new puppet president’s grip on power. Imogen doesn’t know it yet, but she’s running out of time…

Emergency Powers goes on sale October 1st.

*I’m grateful to Nate Silver and the folks at the 538 blog, and to Ohio Northern University’s Prof. Robert Alexander for details on voting behavior.

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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-author2.2017

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