“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
His words echoed sentiments expressed decades earlier by Saul Alinsky. “It is only when the other party is concerned or feels threatened,” Alinsky wrote, “that he will listen—in the arena of action a threat or a crisis becomes almost a precondition to communication.”
COVID-19 and the economic ramifications of the subsequent lockdowns are nothing if not a serious crisis. Now some are hoping to achieve previously unattainable voting changes, such as universal mail-in balloting.
But another interesting trend has emerged as well: Calls to end the Electoral College are often paired with calls to enact mail-in voting. Are the two moves seen as serving the same end? Or are they merely two goals that would seem unachievable, but for the crisis thrust upon us?
“Abolish the electoral college,” Rep. Joe Kennedy III tweeted on April 29. “End the filibuster. Enact vote by mail.”
Meanwhile, other commentators remind voters that they don’t have a right to vote in the presidential election on Election Day. The Constitution gives state legislatures wide discretion, and legislators could simply appoint electors directly if the pandemic is still ongoing. Legislative selection of electors is an option that hasn’t been used in decades, but now the power is spoken of again, as if it could happen in 2020. Other commentators worry that disputed election outcomes might prompt state legislatures to directly appoint electors. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is considering a case about faithless electors. Electoral College opponents hope to use it to their advantage.
Is all this grumbling intended to lay the groundwork for abolishing the Electoral College? Or will a Governor use his or her emergency powers to order an end to the regular popular election, looking to the legislature to directly appoint electors? Or perhaps they are simply casting a wide net and seeing what they can catch?
A serious crisis shouldn’t go to waste, after all.
The Governor of at least one swing state has already shown her capability for muscling past the state legislature and implementing her desired policy. In an unnerving twist, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer refused to accept a legislative decision not to extend her emergency powers on April 30. Instead, she simply declared another emergency, claiming she could extend her own powers for 28 more days.