When Donald Trump secured the Electoral Votes required to win the presidency, many Americans went into a form of shock and disbelief. Now, little less than two weeks later, that initial shock is beginning to dissipate as the country starts to acclimate to the words “President-Elect Trump.” But millions of Hillary Clinton supporters and other voters are not ready to roll over and die just yet.
Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of more than 1.7 million, a number that has grown daily and is expected to widen even more as the remaining 7 million votes are tallied. But despite her popularity, Trump took the crown with 279 electoral votes, nine more than necessary.
For a candidate to win the Electoral College, they must win 270 votes, and in each state, the candidate with the most overall votes is awarded the electoral votes for that state. But – and it’s a big but – that’s not the final stage of the election. That comes later, in December, when electors from each state cast his or her ballot for their state’s candidate.
The Electoral College was designed to ensure fairness. Framers feared an election based solely on the popular vote would be unfair to less populated rural areas. The Electoral College was meant to be a tool of balance, ensuring that every vote would matter, not just those of densely populated cities such as Los Angeles or New York. Ironically, many historians believe the founders put the Electoral College in place precisely to stop an unqualified trainwreck like Trump from ever getting into office.
As Michael Signer explains, the framers were particularly afraid of the people choosing a demagogue. The electors, Hamilton believed, would prevent someone with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” from becoming president. And they would combat “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” They would prevent America’s adversaries from meddling in its elections. The founders created the Electoral College, in other words, in part to prevent the election of someone like Donald Trump.
This isn’t the first time in recent history that the Electoral College has come under public scrutiny. In 2000, they drew fire when George W. Bush won the Electoral College, but Al Gore won the popular vote. It’s happened just three other times before 2000:
1824 Andrew Jackson earned the popular vote but failed to win more than 50% of the electoral votes, when John Quincy Adams was picked by the House of Representatives to be the next president.
1876 Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but caught only 184 electoral votes. Election winner Rutherford B. Hayes took the presidency with 185 electoral votes.
1888 Benjamin Harrison received 233 Electoral College votes, winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote to Grover Cleveland. Cleveland received 168 Electoral College votes.
Although chosen by party officials, electors are not required to vote for a specific candidate under the Constitution, but state laws vary. In 29 states electors are ‘bound’ to vote for their state’s candidate. However, penalties for not doing so, for becoming a “faithless elector,” are relatively small.
Vote Their Conscience
The petition, “Electoral College: Make Hillary Clinton President on December 19” on Change.org put forward by Daniel Brezenoff is trying to encourage the electors to “vote their conscience” rather than towing the party line.
While the petition continues to grow, it’s unlikely to change the outcome of the November 9 election because of the number of faithless electors needed is fairly large. It would take a lot of conscientious objectors.
Clinton won 232 Electoral Votes, Trump 290, with Michigan’s 16 electoral votes still undecided.
Should Michigan be awarded to Trump, he will be the first since Bush Sr. to win with more than 300 electoral votes. Should Clinton take Michigan, her vote count will increase to 248. To reach the required 270, Mrs. Clinton would need to secure an additional 22 votes from the Electoral College.
Can Brezenoff’s petition change 22 votes? It wouldn’t be an easy victory for the Clinton camp, but little about this campaign has been.
The Electoral College will meet on December 19 to cast their ballots.
Featured image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images