Which of the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief are you up to?
If you’re still hoping that the Electoral College might elect Hillary Clinton the 45th President of the United States of America this coming Monday, you are probably still in the first: Denial.
Since the dark morning of November 9, many have been looking to the Electoral College vote — which actually determines the presidency — as the last remaining hurdle standing between Donald Trump and the White House, and this desperate hope has continued to burn strong as D(onald)-Day approaches.
While Trump “won” 306 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232, only just over half the states legally bind their electors — actual physical people appointed by parties to cast the votes — to vote for their party’s designated candidate. Red states Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Indiana and Missouri, most notably, do not. And even in states that do, penalties for failing to follow the rule are minimal. With this in mind, people, pundits and petitions are calling on red-state electors to become “faithless electors," a dramatic-sounding term that simply refers to those who do not vote for the candidate their state chose.
Hamilton Electors is a group started by two Democratic electors, Michael Baca of Colorado and Bret Chiafalo of Washington State, in order to lobby Republican electors to vote with their consciences, i.e for anyone other than Trump. The name is a reference to Alexander Hamilton, of Hamilton fame, who Hamilton Electors say intended the Electoral College as a fail-safe mechanism against the election of Those who are undeRqualified, Under foreign influence or deMagogues for President.
“The process of [the Electoral College] election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”
-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 68
Hamilton Electors claims that electors should be free to vote in whatever way they perceive to be in the best interests of America. Their main goal is not so much to get Clinton elected as to stop Trump from getting the required 270 vote majority. They are suggesting Republicans vote for a more moderate Republican, like Mitt Romney or John Kasich.
The Electoral College Petition goes one step further, calling on “Conscientious Electors” to “protect the Constitution and to support the national popular vote winner” by electing Hillary Clinton instead. It has almost 5 million signatures.
But how many electors would actually have turn faithless in order to make an actual difference? Let’s do the math.
A candidate is required to win 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes in order to be elected President.
Trump currently has 306; Clinton has 232. So 37 votes could make all the difference in bringing them to a tied 269.
It’s not impossible. There are a number of reasonable-looking reasons why electors might change their vote, such as (a) because they can, (b) because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, (c) because Trump. But it’s a long shot.
With three days, seven hours to go, the Hamilton Electors website claimed to have 21 electors “committed” out of their 37 elector goal (their counter has now disappeared, and never did specify which electors). Take this with a grain of salt, however: only two Republican electors have officially come out saying they won’t be voting for Trump.
Here then are three unlikely scenarios that could lead to Donald Trump not being elected President by the Electoral College on Monday, in descending order of likelihood:
Scenario #1: 37 Or More Republican Electors Are Faithless and Vote For A Mixture of Candidates Other Than Donald Trump
If Trump were to lose 37 of his pledged electoral votes to other candidates (other Republicans, Clinton, the electors’ moms), the not-so-President-elect would drop below the required 270 majority, and no one would be elected President on Monday.
The Twelfth Amendment states that if no candidate reaches a majority of Electoral College votes, the House of Representatives will decide the presidency by ballot instead- putting the control of the decision back in Republican party hands. Such a vote could go a number of ways, but the GOP establishment is unlikely go against the will of the people who elected them, no matter what their personal feelings, and all this would most likely end in the election of Donald Trump anyway.
Why this probably won’t happen:
37 is a big ask. Through the history of the Electoral College, there has been a total of only 157 faithless electors. 71 of these were because a candidate had died. So make that only 83 personally-motivated faithless electors.
Only twice have these bouts of faithlessness come en masse. Both instances were in the 1830s, both were Democrat boycotts and both were both directed at Vice-Presidential candidates who were elected anyway: Martin Van Buren missed out on 32 electors in 1832, while Richard M. Johnson lost 23 electors in 1836. No Electoral College has ever made it as high as 37 faithless electors.
But never say never. If there ever was a time for 37 electors to bail on their candidate, it would be now. As many are arguing, this is exactly the sort of candidate the Electoral College was made to safeguard against.
Scenario #2: 270 Electors Get Behind Another Republican Candidate
Likelihood: Very, very unlikely
If a large enough group of faithless electors committed to voting for the same alternative candidate, the Electoral College could, technically, elect someone else to the office of President. The Hamilton Electors have described this as their “best case scenario”. Baca and Chiafalo suggested early on that this number would even include some faithless Democrat electors, such as themselves, getting behind the moderate Republican.
John Kasich’s name has been floated as this alternative candidate, and he is so far the only candidate known to be recieving any faithless elector's vote. But while Kasich’s opposition to Trump is admirable, he is still a conservative who vehemently opposes abortion rights, so let’s not get too excited.
Why this probably won’t happen:
Even if a number like 270 wasn’t unrealistically high, no clear contender has emerged as this “alternative Republican” candidate. While Romney and Kasich have both been suggested, neither been settled upon in any official capacity or plan; even if a red-state elector did decide on the day to vote for a third candidate to oppose Trump, it’s not clear whom they should be voting for.
Electors will be assembling in their respective statehouses across the country, so it’s not like one stirring speech will be heard by a large number of them at once (unless the movement manages to secure at least one elector in each red state to do so).
It also seems unlikely that a majority of blue-state electors, which would almost certainly be needed to make it to 270, are going to vote for a candidate other than Clinton. And would we really want them to? This is the first time a woman is going to receive any presidential electoral votes. While one faithless elector in 1972 cast their vice presidential vote for a woman, Toni Nathan, no one has ever cast a presidential vote for a woman before. This is still another first.
Scenario #3: 38 Or More Republican Electors Vote for Hillary Clinton
Likelihood: Very, very, very unlikely
If 38 faithless GOP electors choose Clinton over Trump, Hillary Clinton becomes the next President of the United States of America.
Why this probably won’t happen:
Sorry, didn’t mean to get your hopes up. So far, only two red-state electors have publicly stated that they cannot in good faith vote for Donald Trump, and neither are voting for Clinton- Christopher Suprun of Texas is voting for Kasich, while fellow Texas elector Art Sisneros has stepped down (he will be replace by another GOP elector).
It doesn't look likely that Clinton will win many faithless elector votes, yet alone 38 or more.
It’s (still) pretty grim. I am no Nate Silver, but the chances of 2016 redeeming itself in the final leg are next-to-none.
But as amazing as it would be, we shouldn’t really be hoping for an Electoral College upset anyway. While the Electoral College may seem undemocratic, and the fact a candidate who won the popular vote won’t be President downright unfair, we have to accept the rules that the election was conducted under and the winner the people technically- under the current rules at least- chose. As Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine, Trump opponents should be fighting him with “normal politics, not crazy Electoral College schemes”.
Denial really is no good to us — it’s no use blindly hoping that our preferred reality is going to eventuate. But let’s not go as far as Stage Five, Acceptance. Let’s get back to focusing on Stage Two, Anger, and channel it into something productive.
Image via Flickr
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