Electoral College Meets Amid Effort to Deny Trump Presidency
It is a constitutionally mandated ritual every four years that this year Americans will watch with interest.
The Electoral College's usually ceremonial role has come under focus in the aftermath of the 2016 election due to a number of factors -- including that Democrat Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by a significant margin, and the finding by the CIA and FBI that Russia used hacking to try to influence the election.
In light of these circumstances, pundits and members of the public are considering what role the 538 electors can and should play in deciding the final outcome of the election.
Public demonstrations opposed to Trump are expected in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., on Monday to encourage electors to vote in line with the national popular vote, protest organizers said. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is spearheading several of the events, said its goal is to talk to electors as they enter the meetings in their respective states to help them feel supported should they decide to vote according to the popular vote.
While it is possible that a few electors who are pledged to Trump could go "faithless" and vote for Clinton or another candidate, most experts expect that Trump will get the 270 electoral votes he needs to win.
Here are some quick insights into the Electoral College vote:
What Happens on Monday? Electors will gather in their respective state capitols to engage in a voting process that is open to the press. The earliest results will likely come in after 10 a.m. ET and the latest around 7 p.m. ET.
Who Are The Electors? The Electoral College has 538 members, a number drawn from the sum of the total number of U.S. senators and House members plus three additional electors for Washington, D.C. All states except Maine and Nebraska are winner-take-all, meaning that whichever candidate wins the state’s popular vote gets all the electors. Maine and Nebraska do it differently: Two electors vote for whoever won the state popular vote, plus one elector for each congressional district goes to whoever won that district.
In most states, electors are chosen among political party activists. “Generally, the parties select members known for their loyalty and service to the party, such as party leaders, state and local elected officials and party activists,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Faithless Electors? ABC News has identified only one elector pledged to Trump -- Chris Suprun from Texas -- who has said he won’t vote for the Republican candidate. Suprun in an interview on ABC News’ "Nightline" this week referred to the Russian hacking, saying he was "concerned when a foreign government intrudes on our elections. They're not doing it with our best interest in mind. I don't think we deserve a classified briefing but I do think we should get as many facts as information we can without compromising sources or methods that the intelligence community can provide."
What about Russia? As of Sunday, 80 electors, all but one of whom are pledged to Clinton, have signed a letter urging Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to give them classified briefings on Russia’s hacking and any of its other cyberactivities related to U.S. elections. Christine Pelosi, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's daughter, who spearheaded the action, said electors needed to be fully informed on the issue before they cast their votes.
What about Hamilton? Founding father Alexander Hamilton warned in Federalist Paper No. 68 that there may be "the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils." The Electoral College, he implied, could serve as a fail-safe to prevent a candidate who may represent the interests of a foreign power from taking office. Some political activists and Hollywood celebrities opposed to Trump have said Hamilton's words provide a basis for electors to vote against Trump on Monday.
Could "faithless electors" put Clinton in office? Trump has 306 electors pledged to him and needs 270 to win. So at least 37 electors pledged to Trump would have to be "faithless" and vote for Clinton or another candidate instead for the Republican to lose. Thirty states have laws that require electors to vote as pledged. However, no elector in any state has ever been penalized or replaced, and none of these state laws has been fully vetted by the courts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The last time an elector crossed party lines was in 1972, when an elector nominated by the Republican Party cast his ballot for the Libertarian ticket, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Faithless electors' votes could probably still be counted, according to Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News. Winger said there have been 157 faithless electors in our history, and Congress has counted every single one of those votes except for a case of three electors who voted for a dead man, Horace Greeley, in 1872. But Ned Foley of the Moritz College of Law said that Congress could still stop potential faithless electors, telling ABC News: "Even if there were 37 faithless electors, ultimately what matters is what Congress does on Jan. 6," when it counts electors' votes.
Congress certifies the final election results.
What if no one gets to 270? In the highly unlikely event that neither Clinton nor Trump gets 270 electoral votes, then the House of Representatives would vote and choose the next president.
Republican electors say they have been deluged with emails, phone calls and letters urging them not to support Trump. Many of the emails are part of coordinated campaigns.
"The letters are actually quite sad," said Lee Green, a Republican elector from North Carolina. "They are generally freaked out. They honestly believe the propaganda. They believe our nation is being taken over by a dark and malevolent force."
Wirt A. Yerger Jr., a Republican elector in Mississippi, said, "I have gotten several thousand emails asking me not to vote for Trump. I threw them all away."
A joint session of Congress is scheduled for Jan. 6 to certify the results of the Electoral College vote, with Vice President Joe Biden presiding as president of the Senate. Once the result is certified, the winner — likely Trump — will be sworn in on Jan. 20.
The Electoral College was devised at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was a compromise between those who wanted popular elections for president and those who wanted no public input.
The Electoral College has 538 members, with the number allocated to each state based on how many representatives it has in the House plus one for each senator. The District of Columbia gets three, despite the fact that the home to Congress has no vote in Congress.
To be elected president, the winner must get at least half plus one — or 270 electoral votes. Most states give all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins that state's popular vote. Maine and Nebraska award them by congressional district.
The AP tried to reach all of the electors and interviewed more than 330 of them, finding widespread aggravation among Democrats with the electoral process, but little expectation Trump would be derailed.
Some Democrats have argued that the Electoral College is undemocratic because it gives more weight to less populated states. That is how Hillary Clinton, who got more than 2.6 million more votes nationwide, lost the election to Trump. Some have also tried to dissuade Trump voters by arguing that he is unsuited to the job. Others cite the CIA's assessment that Russia engaged in computer hacking to sway the election in favor of the Republican.
"When the founders of our country created (the Electoral College) 200-plus years ago, they didn't have confidence in the average white man who had property, because that's who got to vote," said Shawn Terris, a Democratic elector from Ventura, California. "It just seems so undemocratic to me that people other than the voters get to choose who leads the country."
But despite the national group therapy session being conducted by some Democrats, only one Republican elector told the AP that he will not vote for Trump.
There is no constitutional provision or federal law that requires electors to vote for the candidate who won their state. Some states require their electors to vote for the winning candidate, either by law or through signed pledges. But no elector has ever been prosecuted for failing to vote as pledged, according to the National Archives.
Those laws are rarely tested. More than 99 percent of electors through U.S. history have voted for the candidate who won their state.
Electors are selected by state parties, and so are often insiders who can be trusted to vote for the party's candidate. Many Republican electors said they feel duty-bound to honor their pledge to vote for the candidate who won their state, regardless of how they feel about Trump.
Still, some anti-Trump activists have been getting creative in trying to persuade electors to dump Trump.
In addition to thousands of emails, Republican elector Charlie Buckels of Louisiana said he received a FedEx package with a 50-page document that the sender said "had absolute proof that the Russians hacked the elections."
"From the tenor of these emails, you would think these people are curled up in a corner in a fetal position with a thumb in their mouth," Buckels said.