So what is the Electoral College, exactly? American citizens did not in fact elect a president on Nov. 8; they chose electors. On Dec. 19, the 538 electors of the Electoral College will cast their ballots for a candidate and ultimately decide the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Read more below…

President-elect Donald Trump, flanked by his wife Melania and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gives a thumbs-up while walking on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, after their meeting. (Photo: Molly Riley/AP)
President-elect Donald Trump, flanked by his wife, Melania, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gives a thumbs-up on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, after their meeting. (Photo: Molly Riley/AP)

The election of Donald Trump as president is a bitter pill to swallow for millions of Americans — and some are backing a quixotic campaign to reverse that outcome.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 2.4 million people had signed a petition to the U.S. Electoral College, urging its members to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Mr. Trump is unfit to serve. His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience make him a danger to the Republic,” wrote Elijah Berg, who launched the petition on Change.org.

Berg, of North Carolina, argued that the Electoral College can award the White House to either candidate and should use its own “most undemocratic” institution to ensure a “democratic result.”

Berg continued: “24 states bind electors. If electors vote against their party, they usually pay a fine. And people get mad. But they can vote however they want and there is no legal means to stop them in most states.”

Protesters against president-elect Donald Trump march peacefully through Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo: Noah Berger/Reuters)
Protesters against President-elect Donald Trump march peacefully through Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo: Noah Berger/Reuters)

Another petition on Faithlessnow.com similarly calls for more than 160 Republican electors to set aside their votes in states that don’t have laws binding them to do so: Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. The petition has assembled a list of the relevant electors.

Clinton is the first presidential candidate since 2000 to win the popular vote while losing the White House. In that year, Al Gore lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush. While Americans were still waiting to see whether Gore or Bush had won Florida’s 25 electoral votes, Clinton, the first lady at the time, called for the college to be disbanded so that no one would ever have to doubt again whether his or her vote counted.

“We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago,” she said then. “I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

And in a deep twist of irony, Trump has also called for the Electoral College to be abandoned. On the eve of the 2012 election, between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Trump called the Electoral College “a disaster for a democracy.”

After that election, in a tweet he has since deleted, Trump said, “The phoney [sic] electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one! [sic]” Trump tweeted this at a time when he thought Romney would win the popular vote, which ultimately was not the case.

The last time Gallup checked to see whether Americans would vote for a law to abolish the Electoral College was in 2013 — and 63 percent said they would.

So what is the Electoral College, exactly? American citizens did not in fact elect a president on Nov. 8; they chose electors. On Dec. 19, the 538 electors of the Electoral College will cast their ballots for a candidate and ultimately decide the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The authors of the Constitution established this system for two reasons.

First, the founding fathers intended the Electoral College to serve as a buffer between the electorate and the presidency. They feared that a tyrant or someone incompetent would be able to manipulate the population and that better-informed, judicious electors could prevent this from happening. In other words, the Electoral College is supposed to act as a check on the citizenry, should it be hoodwinked by a demagogue.

The Signing of the Constitution of the United States, with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson at the Constitutional Convention of 1787; oil painting on canvas by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940. The painting is 20 by 30 feet and hangs in the United States Capitol building. (Photo: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)
“Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787; oil painting on canvas by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940. The painting is 20 by 30 feet and hangs in the United States Capitol building. (Photo: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Founding father Alexander Hamilton articulated this view in the Federalist Papers: “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 investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.”

The Electoral College was also created as a result of compromises with smaller states, to ensure that they would not be overlooked. Each state has the same number of electoral votes as it has congressional representatives. Voters in smaller states thus have more influence than those in larger states, because every state, no matter how small, has two U.S. senators.

How Does the Electoral College Work?

The Electoral College has no campus. It’s run by two employees of the Federal Register, who spend most of their days preparing highly technical and legalistic copy for that publication, a daily compendium of new regulations and other official notices released by the US government. Once every four years, however, they play key roles in electing a new president.

The actual presidential election is a three part process that begins on Election Day when, by casting a ballot for a presidential candidate, voters effectively vote for that candidate’s slate of electors. These are usually party loyalists, donors or other key players the candidate or the candidates’ party wants to reward. In all but two states the candidate who wins the state, regardless of his or her margin of victory, gets all of the electors. By law, these electors will gather in their respective state capitals on Dec. 19 for the second stage of the process — officially casting their votes. Generally the electors vote as they are pledged, though there is now a petition at Change.org to ask this year’s crop to do otherwise. The states’ governors certify the tally and complete certificates (some of them quite elaborate). The certificates are then sent to a nondescript federal office building in Washington, where the Federal Register staffers compile them and, eventually, take them to the US Capitol for a formal tabulation before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, with Vice President Joe Biden presiding. (Gore had to preside over the tally of his own defeat in 2001.)

There was a time when Federal Register employees were fairly casual about walking the certificates up to the Capitol, but things tightened up after 2000, when the Electoral College, for the first time since 1888, played a decisive role in choosing the president. “Let me just say we’ve changed some procedures,” says Amy Bunk, the Federal Register’s director of legal affairs and policy and, if there were such a title, the “dean” of nation’s Electoral College.

Bunk, who has helped gear up the Electoral College for the past three presidential elections, is good-humored about her role, which sometimes involves calling states and reminding them of their duties. “It’s one of those quirky parts of our jobs,” she said. To help voters better understand the institution, the National Archives has created a website for the Electoral College, complete with historical maps and an explanatory video. “We are that cool,” Bunk quips.

The Change.org petition is part of a growing trend of petitions prompted by Trump’s election. Many are directed explicitly at the president-elect and urge him to rethink his policy positions or behavior on the campaign trail. A voter in Virginia is calling for Trump to meet with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to learn about the reality of climate change. A Californian mother of two children with chronic illnesses is urging Trump to protect the commitment enshrined in the Obamacare legislation that forbids discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Another woman in California is asking for Trump to condemn hate crimes that his supporters commit in his name.

But these petitions for Trump to re-examine specific policies or actions have not yet resonated with the public as strongly as the petition to the Electoral College calling upon its members to stop Trump from entering the Oval Office. Many supporters have been promoting the Change.org petition on social media.

 

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