As President-elect Donald Trump continues actions that many say is dividing America on racial, religious and even ethnic fronts, his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton is on pace to win the popular vote by more than 2 million votes — emboldening those demanding the Electoral College choose either the former secretary of state or another Republican instead.
Combined with the continued divisiveness that’s included more than 700 reported election-sparked racial assaults and widespread protests, Clinton’s widening margin in the overall vote has amplified calls for a mulligan when the Electoral College casts its official vote on Dec. 19.
In a strongly worded editorial published in the New York Daily News this week, Jeffrey K. Tulis, Sanford Levinson and Jeremi Suri called on electors to block Trump from the White House.
Tulis is a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Levinson is a professor at University of Texas Law School and Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
The three educators wrote, “Our Founding Fathers created what we now call the Electoral College to protect our country against the precise danger we now face: a demagogue who has manipulated and bullied voters, exploited fears and now threatens the very foundation of our republic.”
“The electors have an obligation to think deeply about the sanctity of our democracy and the national interest — and they are sworn to vote not for the most popular candidate in their state, or any party candidate for that matter, but for the individual who they think will best protect the nation and the Constitution,” the professors wrote. “The electors can save us by choosing a highly-qualified Republican who respects our noble traditions, values and laws.”
On Nov. 22, Politico reported that at least a half-dozen Democratic electors have signed onto an attempt to block Trump from winning an Electoral College majority, an effort designed not only to deny Trump the presidency but also to undermine the legitimacy of the institution.
The presidential electors, mostly former Bernie Sanders supporters who hail from Washington state and Colorado, are now lobbying their Republican counterparts in other states to reject their oaths — and, in some cases, state law — to vote against Trump when the Electoral College meets.
However, Politico noted that even the most optimistic among the Democratic electors acknowledges they’re unlikely to convince the necessary 37 Republican electors to reject Trump — the number they’d likely need to prevent the final approval of Trump from going to the House of Representatives.
And even if they do, the Republican-run House might simply elect Trump anyway.
But the Democratic electors are convinced that even in defeat, their efforts would erode confidence in the Electoral College and fuel efforts to eliminate it, ending the body’s 228-year run as the official constitutional process for electing the president.
With that goal in mind, the group is also contemplating encouraging Democratic electors to oppose Clinton and partner with Republicans in support of a consensus pick such as Mitt Romney or John Kasich.
The underlying idea is that a mass defection of electors could spur a wave of changes to the Electoral College.
“I do think that a byproduct would be a serious look into Electoral College reform,” Micheal Baca, a Democratic elector from Colorado, told Politico.
Baca is spearheading the anti-Trump effort, along with Washington state elector P. Bret Chiafalo.
“If it gets into the House, the controversy and the uncertainty that would immediately blow up into a political firestorm in the U.S. would cause enough people — my hope is — to look at the whole concept of the Electoral College,” said another elector involved in the anti-Trump planning who declined to be identified.
One prominent Electoral College critic says even if Trump wins easily on Dec. 19, a small number of Republican defections could still roil the future of the institution.
“If you could get eight or 10 Trump electors to vote for someone else then that would probably get people’s attention,” said George Edwards III, a political science professor and Electoral College expert at Texas A&M University. “We haven’t ever had that many faithless electors in one election.”
Democratic elector Polly Baca (no relation to Michael) said the Electoral College should be returned to its original conception — as laid out by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers — as a deliberative body able to exercise free choice while using popular votes only as a guide.
“If we cannot use the Electoral College as a deliberative process … then we ought to do away with it,” said Baca, a former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and former Colorado state senator.
The 538 members who comprise the Electoral College are slated to gather in their respective state capitals to cast the formal vote for president.
Trump won the popular vote in states making up 306 electoral votes, including 16 in Michigan, which officially declared him the winner Monday.
If all of them vote for Trump, he’ll easily exceed the 270-vote majority he needs to become president. That’s why the magic number is 37 Republican defections.
Dozens of Republican electors, picked at state and local party conventions, have signaled discomfort with Trump, but most have committed to supporting him despite their misgivings. Only a handful have said they’d consider voting against him in the Electoral College.
One of them, Art Sisneros of Texas, resigned Monday from the College, saying he couldn’t “in good conscience” vote for Trump.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, another elector, called on Trump to withdraw from the race after a tape of his comments about sexually assaulting women leaked in October. But he’s since confirmed he’d still support Trump with his electoral vote.
A slew of Democrats, on the other hand, have also signaled they may defect from Clinton, which wouldn’t help or hinder Trump’s path to the White House but could contribute to a sense of disarray and voter disenfranchisement.