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More Electors Having Second Thoughts About Supporting Trump

by Countable | 12.16.16

Shortly after last month’s vote, members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team claimed that he had been handed "one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history." But their triumphant dance slowed noticeably after the claim was immediately exposed as inaccurate.

And now it appears that the not-quite-a-landslide margin may narrow even further as allegations swirl that Russia tampered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election in order to help Trump.

Trump garnered 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232, easily surpassing the 270 needed to secure the White House. But with even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Republican, calling for an investigation into the charges, a good swath of those tasked with casting their votes for the nation’s 45th president appear to be considering becoming "faithless electors."

Harvard law professor Larry Lessig counts at least 20 who are weighing whether to flip their vote away from Trump. And more than 50 signed a letter demanding more information about any Russian involvement in the election before they cast their votes on Monday.

What is a faithless elector?

The Electoral College comprises 538 votes. Each candidate has his or her own group of electors in each state who pledge to vote for that candidate should he or she win that state. An elector is considered faithless upon going back on the pledge to vote for the selected candidate.

There are some states, though, that simply do not allow that. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legal instruments in place to ensure electors vote as pledged. In Colorado, for example, a court ruled that two electors refusing to support Clinton, who won its nine electoral votes, must obey state law and cast their votes accordingly.

In most other states, the electors are free to back whomever they wish.

Can faithless electors change who won the election?

Trump can stand to lose 36 electors and still secure the victory. If, however, more than 36 spurn him, he would fall below the magic number. In fact, if 38 were to switch to Clinton, she, instead, would be confirmed as president and her running mate, Tim Kaine, as vice president.

And if neither Trump nor Clinton were to reach 270, it would be up to the House of Representatives to choose from among the two front-runners and whomever else the majority of the electors opt to support. To that end, a group calling itself the Hamilton electors is asking Trump and Clinton electors to compromise and unite behind a "moderate Republican candidate."

The group’s name hearkens back to Alexander Hamilton’s vision of the Electoral College as more of a "deliberative body" with electors expected to use their own judgment to keep a potentially unfit candidate from ruling the country. The Hamilton electors feel that such a point has been reached in 2016.

How likely is it that Trump will not be sworn in on Jan. 20?

At the moment, not very. Those electors who signed the letter requesting more info on the hacking charge did not expressly state that they would withhold their votes if ignored.

Let’s say the 20 cited by Lessig follow through and reject Trump. That alone would not suffice to deny him the presidency. And it also remains unlikely that the sort of compromise that ended with Thomas Jefferson as the nation’s third president in 1800, instead of Hamilton’s even more hated rival Aaron Burr, would reassert itself in circumstances that are, after all, quite different.

Back then, the Electoral College declared Burr and Jefferson tied and the House cast the decisive vote. Today, if enough electors were to migrate over to Clinton’s side, resulting in an electoral deadlock, it’s a near certainty that the Republican-dominated House, not wishing to cause the sort of political ripples that could be felt for generations to come by uniting behind an entirely different GOP candidate, would just affirm Trump as the next president.

– Erin Wright

(Photo by Flickr user US Embassy Canada)

Countable

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