In the week and a half since we last looked at the aftermath of the US presidential election, about another four million votes have been counted, the majority of them for Democrat Hillary Clinton. She now leads by more than 2.67 million votes; in two-party terms, that’s 51.04%. (I’m using the figures compiled by the Cook Political Report; David Leip’s numbers seem to lag a little, although they’re very similar.)
So far this week, ten states have added new figures, but the only significant ones have been from California and New York, both strongly Democrat. California’s total of unprocessed ballots is now down to about 140,000 (not all of which will be valid); New York doesn’t seem to report a statewide total, but it’s probably of the same order of magnitude. There will be some bits and pieces elsewhere still to come in, but it’s getting near the end. (And about time too, being a month since polling day.)
That means that Clinton, with 65.5 million votes, is not quite going to match the 65.9 million that Barack Obama got in 2012, but she’s very close. The two-party swing since 2012 is now down to 0.9%, the lowest since 1888 – the year that incumbent Grover Cleveland improved his vote share by 0.1% but still lost the presidency. Weirdness in the electoral college is not new.
Clinton has also passed an Australian milestone, in that her share of the vote now equals that of Kim Beazley’s Labor Party in 1998, the highest ever losing score in an Australian election. America’s problems are not unique.
Nonetheless, “wrong” results in a parliamentary system make some sense, as a by-product of other desirable (or at least arguable) goals: securing local representation, providing for stable majorities, avoiding the complexity of proportional systems. None of these things apply to the electoral college. As I said immediately after the election, “It serves no intelligible purpose other than to introduce random errors into election results.”
Because, of course, four weeks of extra counting have changed nothing in electoral college terms. Donald Trump has 306 seats to Clinton’s 232; the closest state, Michigan, still has Trump in the lead with 50.12% (two-party), or a lead of about 10,700 votes.
That’s close enough to be worth recounting; realistically, it’s probably the only state that is, although another five states (three Trump and two Clinton) were won with less than 51%. The Republicans, of course, have used every available legal manoeuvre to try to prevent recounts. Their task has been made easier by the fact that the requests for recounts have come not from the Clinton campaign but from Greens candidate Jill Stein, who received just over 1% of the vote and therefore is not, in any reasonable sense, an interested party.
Republicans are arguing that recounts should be stopped if they can’t be completed by next Tuesday, 13 December, which is the federal legislative deadline (called the “safe harbor”) for certifying the results. That was the excuse that the Supreme Court used to stop the 2000 Florida recount in Bush v. Gore; those justices also warned against using their decision as a precedent, but the Republicans at least are consistent in not caring about how people actually voted.
Whatever happens, there’s no real doubt that on 19 December, when the electors meet in their several states, the majority will cast their votes for Trump. A handful will make protest votes of one sort or another, but it will not affect the result. Which in turn, ironically enough, further undermines the rationale for the electoral college system: if electors are supposed to exercise some sort of independent judgement, when would they ever get a better case for it than this?
The argument from independent judgement has been bogus for two hundred years, as shown by the fact that the electors are about to choose someone universally regarded as unqualified, and who lost the popular vote by a substantial margin. In reality the electors are ciphers, whose only function is to periodically gum up the wheels of democracy.