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Electoral College members unlikely to defy election results

  • Melinda Smyser, one of Idaho's four presidential electors, poses for a portrait in Boise, Idaho, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. Grassroots campaigns around the country are trying to persuade members of the Electoral College to vote against Donald Trump and deny him the 270 votes he needs to assume the presidency. Smyser, one of Idaho’s four Republican electors, said they have been flooded with emails, telephone calls and Facebook messages from strangers urging them to reconsider their vote. “It’s just not going to work,” Bangerter (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger) Otto Kitsinger



Monitor staff
Saturday, December 10, 2016

Though stunning, and, in terms of expected Electoral College votes, decisive, the results of the November presidential election were technically a recommendation.

Come Dec. 19, the 538 members of the Electoral College will cast their ballots. The person who clinches at least 270 of those votes will be president.

The electors, as they are called, were picked by their political parties. In states where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took the popular vote, the Republican party’s slate of electors will get to vote. Where Hillary Clinton won, the state’s Democratic party electors will cast votes.

The expectation is that electors will rubberstamp the outcome of the November election, and vote along party lines.

But it didn’t always used to be this way.

Electors were originally selected by state legislatures, not parties, said Dean Lacy, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, and “expected to be dispassionate, bipartisan observers of the election.”

The founding fathers came up with the Electoral College as a way to keep the “passions of the masses” from “picking a demagogue,” Lacy said.

Many states even have “faithless elector” laws that prohibit electors from voting against their party, although New Hampshire isn’t one of them, according to Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan.

The fact that electors are partisan actors “takes discretion out of the Electoral College. And discretion was the original intent of the Electoral College,” Lacy said.

And for fear of a Trump presidency, some – including a handful of electors – are floating the idea of banding together, ignoring how their states voted in November, and casting their ballots in such a way as to stop Trump from being inaugurated.

It’s what the founding fathers would have wanted, argue the “Hamilton Electors,” a small group of Democratic electors who are waging a social media campaign to get electors to “vote their conscience” on Dec. 19.

“We believe that (Alexander) Hamilton had somebody very much like Donald Trump in mind when he charged Electors in Federalist 68 with safeguarding the office of the presidency,” they write on their website.

Two alternatives have emerged: that 38 Republican electors ignore how their states voted and cast their ballots for Clinton (who won the national popular vote by over 2 million votes), or that 270 electors – Republican or Democratic – unite around a Republican alternative.

The so-called Hamilton Electors are backing the second option, and asking Democratic and Republican electors to agree on a Republican different from Trump. Eight Democratic electors have publicly signed on, according to Vanity Fair, and one Republican elector from Texas has published an opinion piece in the New York Times pledging to vote for an alternative to Trump.

Lacy thinks both options are long-shots, because it will be hard to coordinate between parties and across state lines. But if one is more “feasible” than the other, it’s Republicans and Democrats agreeing on a Republican alternative, because Republicans could never stomach a Clinton presidency.

“But that takes a lot of coordination between now and Dec. 19,” Lacy said.

And that coordination doesn’t seem to be in place, at least not in New Hampshire. Three of the state’s four electors told the Monitor they had only heard passing references to the campaign somewhere in the media, and none said they had been contacted by anyone apparently involved in a coordinated campaign to steer Electoral College votes away from Trump.

“It sounds as if someone has an active imagination,” said Dudley Dudley, an elector from Durham. She said she planned to vote for Clinton, and “wouldn’t be inclined” to vote for a Republican alternative to stop a Trump presidency.

“But I would certainly listen to the arguments,” she said.

(Dudley, along with Beverly Hollingworth, an elector from Hampton, did mention getting a handful of calls from random citizens, who, apparently unaware New Hampshire had gone for Clinton in November, begged them not to vote for Trump.)

Hollingworth also said she planned to vote Clinton, and would not go for a Republican alternative, even to stop Trump.

“It would have to be Hillary if you won the popular vote by the margin that she has,” she said.

Elector Carol Shea-Porter, a Rochester Democrat who will begin her fourth term in Congress come January as New Hampshire’s First Congressional District Representative, said through a spokeswoman she would vote for Clinton.

But in view of Clinton’s Electoral College loss despite her popular vote win – the fourth time in history the Electoral College is slated to give the presidency to someone who lost the popular vote – all four electors said it was time to re-examine the Electoral College in the first place.

Both Norelli and Shea-Porter said the country should do some soul-searching about the institution’s relevance. Hollingworth said she originally leaned toward getting rid of it, but that the College might redeem itself as an institution if Republican electors voted for Hillary.

Dudley put it this way: “It’s time to dump it.”

New Hampshire’s four Democratic electors are all women – and that’s no accident. They were selected because they are all “first women,” said Terie Norelli, an elector from Portsmouth.

Dudley was the first woman elected to the New Hampshire Executive Council. Hollingworth was the first Democratic New Hampshire Senate president. Shea-Porter was the first woman elected to Congress from the Granite State.

“For me personally, it’s bittersweet. The fact that I will be able to cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton, a woman, for the President of the United States. That’s historic,” said Norelli, the first woman elected Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. “On the other hand, she’s obviously not going to be the President of the United States.”