In less than one week, the Electoral College will decide who will be the next President of the United States. Historically, this day has served as the official vote into office for the candidate who received the most electoral votes on Election Day. But this year, that may not be the case; and, in light of the far-reaching and long-lasting implications of that possibility, we knew that it was time to do our research around what that means:
How the Electoral College Works
The Electoral College is complex, but in order to understand why this is happening, it’s critical that we know why it began in the first place and how it works today.
First of all, here’s how the Electoral College works:
- Each state has a different number of Electoral College votes, based on its percentage of the total U.S. population. Electors are awarded to each state based on the number of House seats (which are determined based on population) plus the number of Senate seats (which is always two).
- Each state’s electors are nominated by their political parties at their state conventions, and are often state-elected officials, party leaders, or people with a strong affiliation with the Presidential candidates.
- When a party wins the popular vote in a state, they win all the electoral votes from that state.
- On December 19th, the winning party’s state team of Electoral College voters cast their votes on behalf of their state.
When it comes to the Electoral College, most states have a “winner-take-all” system, which means that when a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, even if it’s only by a few votes, they win ALL of the electoral votes for that state. The exceptions to this rule are Maine and Nebraska, which abide by the Congressional District Method, which is a more proportional method of representation. Learn more about that here.
The Electoral College provides us with a final safeguard against the election of an individual who is unfit to run our country. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton argued that "a small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated [tasks].” The idea is that the general population may be swayed by the campaign tactics of a “popular demagogue,” without fully understanding the implications of their votes. The Electoral College is meant to ensure that the President-elect is both qualified to run our country and to keep it safe.
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that the history of the Electoral College is complicated and controversial. We recognize, for example, that it was largely created to give more power to slave states, and for that reason alone, we should rethink its existence and/or current format. Though we are advocating that the Electoral College act in its purpose as a safeguard right now, we also acknowledge that we would not be in this position if the Electoral College didn’t exist, or existed as a more proportional system – but that’s a topic for another day.
What’s Happening Right Now
On December 19th, the Electoral College has the opportunity to serve its purpose as a champion of the people, and a “fail safe” against an unqualified and dangerous candidate. Right now, many individuals and organizations are encouraging Republican electors to vote for someone other than Trump, or to abstain from voting completely. While some are encouraging electors to vote for Hillary Clinton, most are simply asking that electors cast their votes for another Republican – anyone other than Trump – or that they abstain from voting completely.
When we first heard about this movement, we had a lot of questions: Doesn’t this go against the democratic process? Won’t these electors get in trouble for voting for someone other than Trump? If so, what kind of trouble? How can we encourage them to do this if there are repercussions?
We found out that Electors are not legally bound to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their particular state on Election Day. There are 29 states that do require their electors to vote with their state’s popular vote, but the repercussions for not doing so are often in the form of fees. The other 21 states do not have any regulations binding the votes of Electors at all. To date, 157 electors have voted against their state’s popular vote, and none of them have been prosecuted for their actions. There are also many who are standing up to support these electors in making the decision to vote for the people. Law firms are offering free legal counsel to Republican voters who opt not to vote for Trump, and other organizations are fundraising to support any fees those electors might incur.
What will happen if neither candidate gets the 270 votes necessary to put them in office? The House and Senate take over -- this infographic explains the subsequent process.
Why We’re on Board
In the spirit of full disclosure, we need to say that we were initially wary of the idea that we should ask our electors to take this unprecedented action. But after extensive research and self-education, we’ve changed our position. Here’s why:
- These measures are not inflammatory or anti-American. In fact, what we are doing is asking electors to exercise the power that our country’s founding fathers gave them for exactly this scenario. As former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said, “In my view, electors have a constitutional duty not to vote for Donald Trump. The framers of the Constitution established the Electoral College to guard against two possibilities: either that a demagogue might be elected, or that a foreign power might influence the outcome of a presidential election. Trump epitomizes both of these concerns.”
- Donald Trump is neither prepared nor fit to lead our country. This is something we’ve known for quite some time, but that we feel the need to reiterate. This situation is unprecedented. To date, we’ve elected experienced statesmen into the highest office in our country, and whether or not we’ve liked those choices, we’ve respected them and moved forward. This is not the case today. Donald Trump’s lack of experience and restraint becomes increasingly apparent with each passing day, and the odds of him causing irreversible damage to this country are far too great to ignore. Some major examples are the backward and dangerous cabinet appointments he’s made so far, which include a climate change skeptic as the head of the EPA, the way he has handled international diplomacy, and his refusal to take part in daily intelligence briefings while in office, in which every president before him has participated and found necessary.
- Donald Trump lost the popular vote -- by more than any President in U.S. history. And that doesn’t happen often; in fact, it has only happened four times in the history of our democracy. The most recent was in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote in his presidential race against George W. Bush, but lost the Electoral College, and Bush became President. Before that, the last time it happened was in 1888.
- This is not a pro-Hillary or progressive movement. Most of those who are working to inform and empower electors to vote against Trump are not advocating that we use this as a last-ditch effort to elect Hillary. The purpose is to ensure that a more qualified and rational candidate is elected into office, which could very likely mean the election of a Republican who is both experienced and capable.
- This is not a violent or aggressive protest. We stand behind the movement to empower electors to vote their consciences or abstain, and will encourage them to do so through peaceful measures.
What You Can Do Right Now
If you’re ready to participate in this movement and potentially change the course of history next week, here’s what you can do to get involved:
Spread the word:
- Share this video in which Republicans and Democrats alike voice their concerns about a Trump presidency and their support for electors who choose to vote against him
- Educate your community by sharing this blog post
- Follow and share the messages of organizations like Unite for America and Hamilton Electors
- Talk about this on social media using #UniteForAmerica #SupportTheElectors
Support the electors in an upcoming rally
- Saturday, December 17th: Attend the kickoff event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
- Sunday, December 18th: Attend a unity vigil at your state’s Capitol building
- Monday, December 19th: Attend a support rally in your area
Note: If you attend any of these vigils or support rallies, the organizers are suggesting that you wear purple as a sign of unity between both red and blue parties.
Sign up to volunteer
- If you have time or a skillset that could help these movements as they work to empower electors, you can sign up to volunteer.
However you choose to get involved in the movement, the most important thing is that we all stay respectful, encouraging, and supportive of the electors. We’re not trying to harass or guilt anyone into making a different decision -- we’re trying to empower them to make the best decision for our country.
Do you have ideas on what we can do to support the electors on December 19th? Let’s share our ideas and take action together! Here’s how you can get in touch:
In response to this piece, we've received many supportive comments and stories of solidarity. One of them was particularly poignant, and we wanted to share it with you:
From Jeff Parness of New York:
My 15-year-old son is the "strict constitutionalist" in our family and even though the candidate of the majority of our household did not prevail, and even though we live in NYC, Josh really argued for the importance of the Electoral College to ensure two things: 1) that the votes of people in less populated states were not marginalized and 2) that the EC performed their constitutional duty to ensure we elect someone qualified, who is not a demagogue, and who is free from foreign influence. As a 15-year-old, he is more articulate than I in explaining these fundamental principles that make this country who we are and meant to be.
Thank you to Jeff for sharing, and to your son for standing up for this important movement.