The recent US presidential election has evoked historic interest in the electoral outcome both at home and abroad. If anything, Donald Trump should bow his head to an archaic electoral system that has put him ahead of Hillary Clinton in one of the most divisive presidential races in contemporary American history. The world is baffled over the possible retreat of liberal democracy and the American nation feels betrayed by a flawed electoral system and a failure of the political forecasting industry. Not only many a deep seated cultural and political wounds stand reopened but the age old controversy around electoral processes has triggered serious debate on democratic legitimacy of the domestic political order.

Technically Mr. Trump hasn’t been elected as yet and people have not voted him as such but the ‘electors’ are going to cast their ballots on 19th December 2016 for final the decision. This is the sixth time in history that a candidate is being elected as a president without having won the popular vote. With Hillary grabbing 400,000 more votes than Trump, people have rightly started questioning the utility of the current system. They ask how democratic is it to have a president elected under indirect elections instead of nationwide popular vote? The short answer is that the fault lies with the current electoral system, otherwise known as the ‘Electoral College’. But before we discuss how distorted the Electoral College system is, lets first understand the overall legal framework under which the whole election machinery operates.

The constitution of the United States of America delineates procedure for the election of the president. Like so many other areas where states have the autonomy to govern per their specific statues and laws, the constitution empowers states to conduct elections in a manner consistent with their administrative requirements. Lets also be clear about the fact that the American election system works in a decentralised form. In other words, it’s the varied state laws under which much of electoral activity takes place. In the US there exists no singular federal authority a la ‘Election Commission of Pakistan’ which is mandated to administer and manage various elections. Presidential elections are conducted by a plethora of election management bodies operating at federal and state levels. Mandate of a central body called ‘Federal Election Commission’ is restricted to matters dealing with campaign and party finance. The rest of the electoral operations are managed directly by local level entities under the overall legal purview of individual state.

Lets now come to the monstrous Electoral College itself that has given rise to the ‘Trump Presidency’. The world could have been spared this unmitigated disaster, had there been no constitutional ambiguity about the democratic will of the people. In few words, it is the lack of constitutional clarity that is responsible for electoral disaster. It is so bizarre that there is nothing in the constitution that gives American voters the right to choose their president. Instead, constitution reserves this right for 538 electors who constitute the overall Electoral College. President is elected by 270 out of 538 total electors. The figure of 538 is commensurate with the total strengthen of Congress i.e House of Representatives and Senate ensuring representative character of the Union. Technically the fate of Presidential rests with these electors who shall confirm their decision on 19th December. They are free to express their will as there is no legal bar on their pledges if they would like to vote for another candidate. Historically their dissent has never reached a crisis level. What happens this time will confirm historic tradition. It is pertinent to understand lopsided nature of electoral process. Key rationale that founding fathers had in their mind such as Thomas Hamilton underlines two basic reasons. One, it should be regionally balanced electoral landscape where States have a key role to play. Secondly, in a ‘safety valve’ like role, electors will act to prevent potential rise of popular but unwanted candidate as a president. Election of Donald Trump has turned these assumptions on their head.

If this oddity was not enough, lets then move to an even more stranger fact about entire electoral exercise. While elections takes place same time across the country in reality the thrust of presidential election is mainly concentrated around few swing States. Electoral strength of Republicans and Democrats is near evenly distributed across forty plus states with some having varied leanings. But it is these 6 toss up states where a decisive verdict is delivered by the electorate. Once the election campaign swings into action, the focus of parties is diverted towards these battleground states. Robust electioneering takes place under the glare intense media reporting, perception surveys and exit polling. What matters the most is the edge these State get and their ability which remains unencumbered by law not swinging with the mood of the nation.

Moving on, given previous such disasters there has much debate about the need for electoral reforms aimed at delivering free, fair and transparent elections. A sort of national crisis emerged last time when Al Gore lost the election to George W Bush. Though the national conversation kept sustaining itself around the need to reform the 18th century system but no meaningful changes could be enacted. This despite the fact that 63% citizens confirmed in a Gallup survey conducted in 2013 their desire to do away with the decisive role of electors and give presidency to the one who secures the largest popular vote. Only 29 % wanted to stick with the existing system. Interestingly, both democrats and republicans have shown interest in taking steps to knock some sense into this outdated electoral system.

Experts believe the immediate legal route to key electoral reform is a nearly impossible task given the complexity and political challenge of amending the constitution. What, however, can be done is to first secure an inter-state agreement that can bind electors to vote for president who has won majority vote. In recent years, there has emerged a sort of consensus on the need to establish a National Popular Vote Compact among all States as a way forward for rectifying the distortion. Converting this compact into a binding law first requires states that have 270 electors to make laws accordingly. So far only 11 states with 165 electors have enacted the requisite legislation. The challenge is to convince the remaining ones with additional 105 electors to reach the magic number of 270.

What happened on 11/9 has shaken the trust and confidence of a sizable citizenry. It’s the same disbelief that Trump himself expressed calling the Electoral College ‘a disaster’ in a 2002 tweetstorm. He criticised the electoral process and tweeted ‘this election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy’. Calling the system a disaster for democracy, he posted a series of tweets “lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice!”, “The world is laughing at us. We can’t let this happen”, “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty”, “Our nation is totally divided! Our country is now in serious and unprecedented trouble like never before.”

One hopes he still means to overcome the enormity of challenge and provide support to build a bipartisan consensus. The Republicans have a historic chance of addressing the anomaly by expediting the compact process. They can only choose to ignore this at their own peril when next time they face the same dilemma. Trump should also be thankful to Michael Moore correctly predicting his win last year, who had this to say: “The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we’ll continue to have presidents we didn’t elect and didn’t want.”

The world could have been spared this unmitigated disaster, had there been no constitutional ambiguity about the democratic will of the people.