Almost as soon as Republican candidate Donald Trump was named the victor in the November 8th presidential election, rumors began circulating about Electoral College electors potentially staging a revolt to block him from actually becoming president during their December 19 vote. That vote, ultimately, determines who the next president of the Unites States will be.
On November 12, four days after the election, Fox News reported on early efforts to persuade electors to switch their votes from Trump to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Voters upset that Republican Donald Trump had been elected president — or think that the presidency was unfairly taken from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton — are scrambling for ways to change the results,” Fox reported.
“Their major focus is trying to get members of the U.S. Electoral College to change their vote, arguing that Clinton should be the next president because 60.47 Americans voted for her, compared to 60 million for Trump.”
Politico reported on Monday that while those efforts are reaping more rewards than similar attempts following previous elections, the odds of the Electoral College flipping the election are still very slim.
“At least a half-dozen Democratic electors have signed onto an attempt to block Donald Trump from winning an Electoral College majority, an effort designed not only to deny Trump the presidency but also to undermine the legitimacy of the institution,” Kyle Cheney writes in the Politico article.
“Even the most optimistic among the Democratic electors acknowledges they’re unlikely to persuade the necessary 37 Republican electors to reject Trump — the number they’d likely need to deny him the presidency and send the final decision to the House of Representatives.”
As Cheney notes, electors are bound by oath and, in some cases, even state laws to vote in the matter that reflects the voters of their state. If a candidate earned the popular vote in a given state, the Electoral College electors of that state are supposed to give their votes to that candidate.
Electors who choose to vote against the candidate who won the majority of votes in their state are referred to as “faithless electors.” And the system was designed, 228 years ago, so that faithless electors could prevent the masses from electing a candidate unworthy of office — in their opinion.
“Electors were considered preferable to the popular vote because the [Founding Fathers] distrusted mass democracy, and hoped that the electors would select men with the proper judgment and background,” Thomas Schwartz, a professor of history and political science at Vanderbilt University, told The Christian Science Monitor.
“They were steeped in classical history of Greece and Rome, and saw the danger of popular demagogues. And they were wealthy men who feared the mob taking their property.”
Despite this intentional loophole remaining in place, faithless voters have never actually affected the outcome of an election.
Over the course of the history of the Electoral College, there has been a total of only 157 faithless voters. The closest they came to ever swaying an election occurred all the way back in 1835, according to the Monitor.
Even that outcome would have only affected the vice presidency of Richard Johnson rather than the presidency of Martin Van Buren. The Senate ultimately squashed the Electoral College revolt that year and Johnson served as Van Buren’s vice president anyway.
While it remains highly unlikely that the Electoral College will override the state votes to elect Donald Trump, those leading the revolt do hope that their efforts might lead to longterm effects on how our elections are conducted.
“If it gets into the House, the controversy and the uncertainty that would immediately blow up into a political firestorm in the U.S. would cause enough people — my hope is — to look at the whole concept of the Electoral College,” an elector who wished to remain anonymous told Politico.
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