Electoral College makes the final decision
by Lisa Cyriacks
The 2016 election was hugely partisan and highly unusual. The “real” presidential vote by the Electoral College on December 19, when presidential electors meet in the 50 state capitols and Washington, DC, was no exception.
On November 8, the majority of Americans did not vote for either of the two major party candidates—the two least liked presidential candidates in recent US history, say some reports. Neither candidate won by an absolute majority of more than 50%.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes. Republican Donald Trump will be the president who lost the popular vote by the widest margin in history. While there have been four previous occasions when a presidential candidate lost
the Electoral College vote while
winning the popular vote, Clinton’s
margin of victory is notably large.
Clinton’s win of the popular vote, but not the electoral vote, uncertainty about Donald Trump, and the possibility of foreign influence in the November 8 election, generated unusual interest in what is otherwise a political footnote.
Trump won the electoral vote because he prevailed in certain swing states. Supporters of the Electoral College say that the founders created it because they wanted to ensure that the election was not dominated by one or two states. Not only does Trump insist that he won the popular vote “because 3 million illegal votes were cast” (a statement unsupported by fact) but he has also insisted he would have run a different campaign without the Electoral College and still won because he would have campaigned only in populous states like California. People who want to abolish the Electoral College say that it’s unfair a candidate could win so many more votes and still lose.
Recounts were launched by Green candidate Jill Stein in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania at the behest of election experts who said irregularities noted there merited further investigation. In one noted irregularity in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7% fewer votes in counties with electronic voting machines than in counties that have paper ballots. In Michigan, more than 80,000 ballots were said to be blank where the votes for president would be marked, twice the number left blank in the previous election, and several times the margin between the two candidates. In Pennsylvania, the gap between Clinton’s and Trump’s votes narrowed dramatically even before the recount, as officials got around to actually counting all the ballots.
Investigative reporter Greg Palast is pursuing an explanation for the 75,355 ballots in Michigan that were never counted. The majority of these votes came from Detroit and Flint, majority black cities. Palast presented his findings to an ad hoc Congressional hearing and the Justice Department about the suppression of minority votes.
When people went to the polls on November 8, they may have thought they were voting for Hillary Clinton and Tim Paine, or for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. In reality they were voting for presidential electors, most of whom are hardly household names, and typically would have cast their vote relatively anonymously. The Electoral College gets the final say in who wins the White House.
In Colorado on December 19, amid calls for Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams to resign, Colorado’s electors cast eight Electoral College votes for Hillary Clinton—and one that wasn’t accepted. That ninth elector was replaced by another who voted for Clinton. The votes marked the end of a drawn-out confrontation between the state’s Democratic electors and state government officials. Colorado statutes require that electors cast their ballots in accordance with the popular vote.
Colorado Secretary of State Williams passed a temporary rule at 11:48am—a mere 12 minutes before the noon deadline—binding electors explicitly to vote for the person who won the most votes, replacing language “to faithfully perform their duties” and including steep fines and imprisonment if not compliant. Leading up to the event, Williams said that any electors who violate the oath contained in the new rule could be charged with perjury and violations of the election code. Asked afterward if the renegade elector would be charged, Williams said that is up to other people now.
The vote was an anticlimactic ending to multiple court battles between state officials and Colorado electors to define the role of the Electoral College as defined by the US Constitution. A few Colorado electors were part of a national movement primarily of Democratic electors who wanted to vote for someone other than Clinton, perhaps even a Republican, to encourage Republican electors not to vote for Trump. The idea: If 37 Republican electors voted for someone other than Trump, then he would not have 270 electoral votes, and the decision for President and Vice-President would go to the House of Representatives. (US Constitution, Amendment XII)
Electors in two other states went to court seeking a chance to vote their mind rather than conforming to their state’s popular vote results; another resigned altogether. One Republican elector in Texas publicly stated he would not vote for Trump. One Democrat in Maine cast his vote for Bernie Sanders. In the end, most electors conformed to the standard of casting their vote for the popular vote winner in their state—resulting in Trump winning the requisite number of votes to claim victory.
Almost 80 electors requested an extension of the Electoral College scheduled vote, asking for an intelligence briefing on the role Russian hacks may have played in the November general election. US intelligence officials denied that request. The White House has initiated a thorough investigation and a briefing is to be prepared for President Obama before he leaves office on January 20.
Votes cast by presidential electors will be counted on January 6, during a joint session of Congress, and only then will the winner be “officially” declared.
Despite questions raised regarding the necessity of the Electoral College, the outcome of the 2016 election remains predictable. The 2016 election—as did the 2000 election—serves as a reminder that a majority of Americans don’t necessarily elect Presidents in America.