Friday, December 16, 2016

Anti-Trump Electoral College Revolt Faces Steep Odds

It’s been over a month since Donald Trump pulled off an upset victory over Hillary Clinton, bringing an end to one of the most contentious presidential campaigns in U.S. history.

Or so you thought.

In reality, the result won’t be official until Monday, when the 538 members of the Electoral College meet at statehouses across the country to cast their votes — the ones that actually decide who is the next president.

The Electoral College serves as a formality and usually receives little attention. But this year, there is a last-ditch effort to use the Electoral College to deny Trump the presidency.

It’s a long shot, but the electoral revolt is injecting one last bit of uncertainty into an election that has been one of the most unpredictable ever.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton face off in a duel of honor. By Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. (Public domain)

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton face off in a duel of honor. By Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. (Public domain)

Hamilton’​s compromise

The drive is being encouraged by a group called the Hamilton Electors, named after Alexander Hamilton, a U.S. founding father and one of the Electoral College’s main architects.

Hamilton and the other founding fathers devised the Electoral College as a compromise between those who wanted a direct presidential election and those who wanted Congress to choose the president.

The system was also meant to serve as a safeguard against those unfit for the presidency, a point emphasized by the Hamilton Electors.

“We honor Alexander Hamilton’s vision that the Electoral College should, when necessary, act as a constitutional fail-safe against those lacking the qualifications from becoming president,” says a statement on the group’s website.

Emoluments clause

Here’s how the Electoral College works:

When U.S. voters cast their ballots in November, they don’t technically vote for presidential candidates. Instead, they vote for electors, or representatives, with the number of electors in each state being in proportion to its population. Those electors, in turn, normally cast their votes for the popular-vote winner in their state.

If Trump gets all the electoral votes from the states where he won the popular vote, he will have 306 electoral votes, many more than the 270 needed for a simple majority.

That means for the electoral revolt to succeed, 37 Republicans who are scheduled to vote for Trump would have to abandon him.

So far, only one Republican elector has publicly pledged to do so.

That elector is Christopher Suprun, a paramedic who lives in Dallas, Texas. In a phone call with VOA, Suprun said Trump is unqualified to be president because the billionaire’s global financial dealings represent a conflict of interest.

“The emoluments clause is the most objective reason,” said Suprun, referring to a section of the Constitution that prohibits federal officeholders from accepting gifts or compensation from a foreign government without the consent of Congress.

Suprun also cites Trump’s inflammatory campaign rhetoric against women, minorities and others.

“He has not shown any attempt to overcome the demagoguery. And where is he going to be on national security? Is his allegiance to America?” Suprun asked.

Russian involvement

The attempted electoral revolt is receiving more attention this year because Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton by more than 2 percent. This is the fifth time in history that there’s been a split between the popular and electoral votes.

Tensions were further stirred after reports surfaced last week suggesting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believes the Russian government hacked the computers of Democrats in an attempt to throw the election to Trump.

Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta speaks to members of the media outside Clinton's home in Washington, Oct. 5, 2016.

Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta speaks to members of the media outside Clinton’s home in Washington, Oct. 5, 2016.

Specifically, the reports reference hacks into the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, both of which resulted in a series of leaks that damage Clinton’s candidacy.

Trump has slammed the reported CIA conclusion as unwarranted, saying there is no evidence that Russia was involved in the hacking at all, let alone that Moscow supported his candidacy.

But that hasn’t stopped a growing number of electors from expressing concerns about Russia’s involvement in the election. As of Thursday, 67 electors had signed a petition demanding an intelligence briefing ahead of the Monday vote.

All but one of the electors who signed the petition are Democrats, a fact that gives credence to the idea that the electoral revolt has failed to make much progress where it matters most.


Harvard University constitutional law professor Lawrence Lessig earlier this week suggested as many as 20 Republican electors were considering changing their minds about Trump, though that report has not been confirmed.

If the electors were to abandon Trump, they would face no penalty under federal law. However, 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws purporting to exercise various degrees of control over how the electors vote.

Many constitutional lawyers question whether those laws are constitutionally enforceable. However, the effort to allow the electors to vote their conscience was dealt a blow earlier this week when a Colorado judge ruled that electors in that state were not allowed to switch their votes.

Given the hurdles, the anti-Trump revolt is unlikely to succeed, admits Larry Tribe, another professor at Harvard Law School.

But Tribe insists that electors “have a responsibility to the country and the Constitution, in extreme enough situations.”

“And I think this is a pretty extreme situation,” he said.

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