Hillary Clinton, despite losing the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, won the popular vote by a margin of two percentage points — a wider margin than 10 presidents who were actually elected in the 49 presidential elections since 1824 when the popular vote was first recorded.
But is there any way that Clinton can still win the presidency? By winning three states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — by a combined margin of fewer than 80,000 votes out of the more than 136 million cast nationwide, Trump was able to win a majority of electoral votes. As a result, Trump became the president-elect. However, the results of the election have not been made official and will not be until January 6, when a joint session of congress meets to certify the results.
As unlikely as it appears, there are ways that Clinton could pull off perhaps the most stunning political reversal in American history and become the 45th president of the United States after all. Here are five scenarios, all of them extreme long shots, that could still legally win the presidency for Clinton.
Recounts of the Vote in Swing States Could Throw the Election to Clinton
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has requested recounts in the three states mentioned above, and other groups are also pushing for recounts in Florida and Nevada.
Clinton finished the November 8 election winning only enough states to give her 232 electoral votes, 38 short of the 270 required for a majority — and to win the election. While the recount in Nevada cannot help Clinton for the simple reason that she won that state and its six electoral votes, reversals of the close margins in any three of the other four states, all won by Trump, would give Clinton enough electoral votes to push past 270.
The problem, however, is the prospects look bleak for Clinton in any of the recount scenarios. Only the Wisconsin recount is actually underway, and with 70 percent of the votes recounted as of Thursday, December 8, Clinton had indeed gained on Trump — by 82 votes.
That’s considerably short of the 22,177 votes that gave Trump a victory in Wisconsin, along with the 10 electoral votes there.
Michigan had started its recount — but on Wednesday a federal judge put the recount on ice, saying that Stein had no right to ask for it. Because she won only 1.07 percent of the vote in the state, the judge ruled that Stein had no chance of winning in a recount and could not be considered an “aggrieved candidate” under state law.
The Pennsylvania recount is also delayed pending a judge’s ruling expected on Friday. And in Florida, a group of voters who contend that fraud, electronic tampering, and other factors wrongly gave Trump his 112,000-vote victory there have filed a lawsuit demanding a recount. Florida has 29 electoral votes.
But the state, led by Trump-supporting Republican Governor Rick Scott, could simply delay responding to the lawsuit beyond the December 13 deadline for certifying the state’s electoral votes.
The Recounts Could Miss the December 13 Deadline
The federal deadline for states to resolve any disputes over their electoral vote totals is December 13, and while Wisconsin state officials say that their recount will be completed in time, if delays caused by court actions in Michigan and Pennsylvania are resolved and allow the recounts to continue, the chances of either state finishing by next Tuesday appear impossible.
With some of Wisconsin’s largest counties also still in the process of recounting votes by hand, there remains a chance that the deadline there could go by the boards as well.
What happens if those states, with 46 electoral votes among them, fail to validate their electoral votes by December 13? According to information from the U.S. National Archives, the answer is unclear.
“It is up to Congress to determine what to do in the event one or more States cannot meet the statutory deadlines,” according to an online document posted by the National Archives.
Congress meets in a joint session on January 6 to officially count the electoral vote and finalize the 2016 presidential election. But if some electoral votes are still in dispute, there is no set rule to determine what happens next — except that the house and senate would have to meet to figure out what to do.
The last election in which electoral votes were seriously disputed came in 1876, when Republican Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote by three percentage points to Democrat Samuel Tilden — but won in the Electoral College after several months of legal disputes over electoral votes.
The Electoral College Could Vote For Clinton Anyway
An online petition, which has so far gathered more than 4.8 million signatures, calls on Electoral College voters in states won by Trump to switch their votes. If 38 Trump electors cast ballots for Clinton instead — and assuming that all of Clinton’s own electors honored their commitments to vote for her — she would be elected president.
No federal law prevents electoral voters from casting their ballot for any candidate. In U.S. history, 157 electoral voters have, in fact, voted for someone other than the candidate that the popular vote their own state dictated.
At least one Trump elector has already announced that he will refuse to vote for Trump. The problem for Clinton is that the Texas elector, Christopher Suprun, said that he will not vote for her either — but instead will vote for another Republican whom he deems acceptable, after deciding that Trump is unfit to hold the nation’s highest office.
A Lawsuit Filed This Week Challenges The Electoral System
Even though no federal law prohibits electoral voters from voting for anyone they choose, 48 of the 50 states have laws awarding their electors on a “winner take all” basis to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in that specific state.
That “winner take all” system is what enabled Trump to win the election, despite losing the popular vote decisively and winning Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan by extremely narrow margins — only 0.2 points in Wisconsin and Michigan, and 1.2 in Pennsylvania. But despite the razor thin margins, Trump collected all 46 electoral votes from the three states, giving him the presidency.
The lawsuit filed by Colorado electors Polly Baca and Robert Nemonic charges that the “winner take all” laws violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by effectively making voters in smaller states worth more than than voters in highly populated states.
For example, as a recent article in The Huffington Post pointed out, Wyoming with its population of 563,767 sends three electors to the Electoral College. California with a population of 37,254,503 has 55 electoral votes.
That means each Wyoming elector represents 187,923 residents. But in California has 677,355 residents per elector — making Wyoming voters in effect 3.6 times more powerful when it comes to electing a president than California voters under the winner-take-all system.
The lawsuit aims to free electors from their states’ winner-take-all requirements. While the suit may not be resolved in time for Hillary Clinton to benefit in the 2016 election, if successful, it could have a major impact on the 2020 presidential election.
What Happens if Trump Dies?
The final long shot scenario that has at least a chance — albeit a remote one — of making Hillary Clinton president after all would occur if Donald Trump were simply to die. Of course, the chances of that happening are unknown. Any human being could die at any time for a wide variety of reasons. But no elected U.S. president has ever died after being elected, but before taking the oath of office.
However, if Trump were to unexpectedly pass away, the results of the election could be thrown into chaos.
But there’s a catch. Trump’s death would need to occur prior to January 6, when congress ratifies the results of the Electral College vote. If he died anytime between that ratification and the presidential inauguration on January 20, the constitutional rules of succession would apply and Vice-President Elect Mike Pence would become president-elect, and would be inaugurated in Trump’s place.
But if Trump became deceased between December 19 when the Electoral College votes to elect him president, and January 6 when those results are confirmed by congress, the situation is much less clear. Because Trump does not become the legal, official president-elect until the congressional count of electoral votes on January 6, Pence would not automatically become president-elect if Trump dies in the 18-day period between the two events.
In fact, neither the Constitution, nor any federal law provides any procedure at all for deciding who becomes president if the winner of the Electoral College vote dies before congress officially counts the votes.
If Trump died before the Electoral College meets on December 19, the chaos would be even greater. Electors would then be, in theory, freed even from obligations under state law to vote for the winner of their states’ popular votes. Whether they would then choose to vote Hillary Clinton, winner of the national popular vote, into office remains highly uncertain — but at least possible.
[Featured Image By Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press]