Washington (AFP) – Americans aghast over the idea of Donald Trump as president are turning to the Electoral College — the somewhat puzzling, much criticized institution that will make it official — as a last-ditch recourse to halt the inevitable.
Its 538 members — the government says it is not even a body, really, but rather a process — will vote December 19 to formally confirm Trump’s stunning win over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 8 election.
Clinton won the popular vote by two percentage points, but Trump took the only thing that mattered: a majority of the electoral college, and a healthy one at that: 306 to 232.
There are Americans out there who want the college to declare Clinton the winner, anyway, because she triumphed in the popular vote.
In 21 states, electors can vote their conscience, regardless of who won the popular vote in their state and — thus in theory at least — all that state’s electoral votes.
But it is extremely rare for an elector to go rogue.
It has happened just nine times since World War II, says FairVote, a non-partisan group working for electoral reform.
For people opposed to Trump — the shoot-from-the-hip property tycoon with no experience in government, the man who insulted women, minorities and Muslims during the campaign and has the world watching closely as he hints at upending decades of US foreign policy with blasts of pre-dawn tweets — the nuclear electoral college option is a godsend.
But it is a fool’s errand, to be sure.
It would take 37 Republican electors jumping ship and not voting for Trump.
If that were to happen, in theory at least the choice of the next president would go to the House of Representatives. But before it got there, judicial chaos would almost certainly break out.
Listen to filmmaker Michael Moore, one of the anti-Trump people dreaming of salvation: “54 percent of the voters didn’t want Donald Trump. Only 46 percent did.”
Indeed, that was Trump’s popular vote tally — actually 46.2 percent — compared to 48.2 percent for former Secretary of State Clinton.
The election year has been utterly crazy, Moore added.
“So is it possible — just possible — that in these next six weeks, something else might happen, something crazy, something we’re not expecting?” he added, speaking last week on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
Jim Himes, a Democratic congressman, is on board. He told CNN the Electoral College now has an inherent responsibility to step up and avert disaster.
Himes said of the college: “If it exists, why would it exist but for any other purpose than what it could do in one week, which is to say — and something that I think the majority of Americans I think probably believe today — which is that we’re about to make a president who is dangerous.”
It is lonely out there for these naysayers. But at least one Republican elector, Chris Suprun of Texas, has said that he cannot vote for Trump, arguing among other things that the Republican tycoon is not qualified for the job.
Democrats are complaining about the electoral college system but the Republicans are not listening.
The process is enshrined in the US Constitution of 1787.
America’s founding fathers saw it as a reasonable compromise between electing presidents through a direct popular vote — which would favor candidates from states with large populations — and having Congress do the choosing, which was seen as not very democratic.
The Constitution lets states decide how to choose their electors.
In the beginning, state legislatures designated them and it would be decades before it became voters themselves who chose these people.
Reform attempts fail
Reforms have been proposed many times — especially from the late 1940s through 1979, according to a congressional report, but every time, they failed.
Trump himself called the system a mess in 2012, but after he won, he said it was “genius.”
After Clinton lost, a bill was proposed — by retiring Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer– to simply do away with the electoral college. It has zero chance of passage.
The most solid movement for change circumvents the daunting task of amending the constitution and would instead create a coalition of states that agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote.
This initiative is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
So far, 11 states representing 165 electoral votes have adopted this arrangement. They are still far from the 270 needed for the reform to become a reality.
On Monday, 10 electors found another reason to perhaps not vote for Trump: a CIA finding that Russian hacking of US institutions and people during the White House race was aimed specifically at hurting Clinton and therefore helping him win.
“If there is serious interference in our election from a foreign state that impacted the election, that is something that the electors should know and on the basis of that information, vote their conscience,” one of them, Clay Pell of Rhode Island, told AFP.