Re: Fall of empires (and civilization too?)
"(ECs are not legally obliged to take the ballots into account)"
Based on constitutional strictures, true. But many states, for example, Washington, have state laws that require the electors to give their votes to the winner of the majority of popular votes cast in that state.
But, after 2016 multiple lawsuits were brought against these various 'faithless elector' laws and at least one is going to the US Supreme Court. If the court strikes down these laws then yes, it would truly be that the American people do not vote for President. They vote for slates of electors that the vast majority of the population has zero clue who they are, what they do or even why they exist. These electors would have zero constraint on them as to how they vote.
Another level of problem is that these electors have traditionally been low-level state party workers and other random folks. No specific laws regarding acting in the public benefit, don't take bribes, etc., apply to them, usually named to recognise their volunteer efforts or perhaps notable people in the community. In the 20th Century they simply became little more than a bookkeeping artifact but without these laws and with the full corruption of the orange terror to bring to bear the US may as well not bother anymore with voting 'for president.'