December 12, 2016
The Electoral College meets one week from today in what will be the final step in Donald Trump’s improbable rise to the presidency. But it will also be the last chance for #NeverTrump dead-enders to keep Trump out of the White House. And now, the anti-Trump effort has been given new fuel by allegations of Russian attempts to interfere with the presidential election.
Trump won 306 electoral votes. There are 306 electors, actual people, who are expected to vote for him next Monday in Electoral College meetings in state capitals across the country. Trump’s total is 36 more than the 270 required to become president. With that in mind, a group of Trump resisters is hoping to convince 37 Trump electors to vote for someone else on Monday, taking Trump just below the magic 270 mark. If that were to happen, Trump would not become president.
The hope is to create one of two scenarios. If rogue electors vote for candidates other than Hillary Clinton, who won 232 electoral votes on Election Day, then no candidate would have 270 and the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives. If the 37, plus one more, voted for Clinton, she would reach 270 and become president.
“This election is not in the books,” said Chris Suprun, a Texas Republican elector who says he will not vote for Trump, at a news conference Sunday. “While we have been perhaps remiss in thinking it is, Dec. 19 is when ballots will be cast.”
Suprun would not reveal who he will vote for, but said it will not be Clinton. “While I have not chosen my candidate, I am going to vote for another Republican, someone who I think can unite our country and will do so effectively without the issues that Mr. Trump faces that disqualify him from the presidency,” Suprun said.
Although Trump won Texas by more than 800,000 votes, there is no law requiring Suprun to vote for him. Texas is one of 21 states that do not require electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote in that state. In 29 states, however, there are laws requiring electors to vote for the popular vote winner.
California and Colorado are two of those 29 states. Now, in the wake of Trump’s win, there are lawsuits in both states challenging restrictions on electors. Neither suit was filed by Trump electors seeking to vote for someone else; there are no Trump electors in California and Colorado, which Clinton won. Instead, both suits were filed by Democrat electors seeking to knock down the laws in other states that bind electors to Trump.
In the California suit, Democrat elector Vinzenz Koller argues that he “must be allowed to exercise his judgment and free will to vote for whomever he believes to be the most qualified and fit for the office of president and vice president within the circumstances and with the knowledge known on Dec. 19, 2016, whether those candidates are Democrats, Republicans, or from a third party.”
There are reports that a total of 10 electors support the lawsuits. The problem for the anti-Trump forces is that nine of those electors are Democrats who weren’t going to vote for Trump anyway. Only one, Suprun, is a Republican.
The Trump resisters have formed a group called the Hamilton Electors, named in honor of Alexander Hamilton, who wrote Federalist 68, which deals with the Electoral College. The group says it represents electors “who are pledging to put America first and vote for a qualified Republican alternative who can unify our country.” (The group doesn’t name names, but some involved in the cause have mentioned Ohio Gov. John Kasich as a possible compromise candidate.)
There are other efforts as well. There is a petition created by change.org urging Republican electors to vote for Clinton. “We are calling on ‘Conscientious Electors’ to protect the Constitution from Donald Trump, and to support the national popular vote winner,” organizers say. They claim 4.7 million people have signed the petition.
In addition, Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig has formed something called “The Electors Trust” to offer free legal advice to Republican electors thinking about abandoning Trump.
Backers of the various electoral college stratagems say their cause has been made more urgent by news reports of Russian efforts to influence the election. “The revelations by the CIA, as reported by the Washington Post, only increased my resolve,” Suprun said Sunday. “I will not go to Austin and cast a vote of appeasement to appease the Kremlin. I am calling on the president of the United States, Mr. Obama, please provide the members of the Electoral College with the information we need from the CIA report so we can know if there were undue foreign influences affecting our country.”
Obama has said he wants the investigation completed by the time he leaves office, Jan. 20. But look for more calls to speed up the work, or to issue a partial report, to get out information before the Dec. 19 Electoral College meeting.
The problem with all this is that there has never been a large-scale defection of so-called “faithless electors” in all of American history, and there’s no reason to believe one would happen now.
The largest defection occurred in 1808, when six electors abandoned James Madison on his way to the presidency. Other than that, defections have been one elector here and one elector there. In 2004, an anonymous Democrat elector refused to vote for John Kerry, casting a vote instead for Kerry’s running mate John Edwards. In 2000, after a historically contentious election and recount in which the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, lost in the Electoral College, just one elector defied the system. (She was a Democrat who abstained.) In 1988, a Democrat elector voted for Lloyd Bentsen instead of Michael Dukakis. In 1976, a Republican elector voted for Ronald Reagan instead of Gerald Ford. In 1972, a Nixon elector voted for the Libertarian candidate instead.
None ever changed the results of any election. And now, with Trump filling out his Cabinet and preparing to take the oath, with recount efforts fizzling, and with Clinton mostly out of public view, there are supposed to be 37 electors, all for Trump, who jump into the unknown?
In addition, if the Hamilton Electors somehow got their way and threw the election to the House, do they actually expect a Republican-dominated body, made up of Republican politicians who come mostly from states that supported Trump, to abandon the candidate who won 306 electoral votes in favor of a candidate who won none?
At key points in Trump’s run, opponents conjured up elaborate scenarios through which he might be stopped. They planned complex delegate maneuvers at the Republican National Convention. They explored ways of replacing him on the GOP ticket. They hoped he might simply drop out of the race on his own. None of that happened. And now, they are pinning hopes on the most elaborate and unlikely scenario of them all.