Donald Trump faces one final major hurdle before being sworn in next month as the country’s 45th president: the 538-member Electoral College.
On Monday, those electors will head to their respective state capitols across the country to formally cast the final votes — the ones that truly matter — in the 2016 presidential election.
“This election is not in the books,” Chris Suprun, one of the 38 electors in Texas, warned recently. “Dec. 19 is when the ballots will be cast.”
Electors have been in the hot seat since the election, swamped with requests and threats alike from those asking them not to support Trump for president.
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Lawsuits have been filed and delays have been sought as voters across the country continue calling on electors to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — or vote for anyone but Trump, with the goal of sending the presidential vote to the U.S. House, which might pick a more moderate president.
I will not go to Austin and cast a vote … to appease the Kremlin.
Chris Suprun, an Electoral College voter from Texas who won’t support Donald Trump
Suprun, a Dallas paramedic, has been in the national spotlight since writing an op-ed that ran in The New York Times stating he won’t vote for Trump. He cited many reasons, including that Trump acts like a “demagogue,” has conflicts of interest, and “has played fast and loose with the law for years.”
He and dozens of other electors have signed on to a letter asking President Barack Obama to give Electoral College voters an intelligence briefing regarding Trump’s ties to Russia before their vote Monday.
“This year is unlike any other,” Suprun said recently. “This year has showed us perhaps our worst fears and our best opportunities.
“I will not go to Austin and cast a vote … to appease the Kremlin,” he said. “I will cast a vote for America.”
Despite Suprun’s decision to become a “faithless” elector, it is unlikely that enough electors nationwide will flip their votes to change the election results, said Alex Kim, a Bedford attorney and Electoral College member.
“It’s a pipe dream,” Kim said. “It’s like Dak Prescott at the 2-yard line trying to drive 98 yards against the Giants.
“I think Trump will win,” he said. “I would bet dollars to doughnuts he wins. The odds of him not winning are slim to none and Slim left town.”
The Electoral College dates to the 1800s as the name given to a group of citizens chosen by “the people” to formally cast the final vote for president and vice president.
The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College and put it in the Constitution as a way to create a middle ground between letting Congress and qualified voters nationwide elect the president. They also wanted to give every state a proportional voice in the process.
So they designed the college and decided that a simple majority would determine the country’s president every four years. Electors now total 538, and a majority is 270 or more.
Across the country, the Trump-Mike Pence ticket picked up 306 electoral votes. The Clinton-Tim Kaine ticket claimed 232.
Many hope to flip 37 votes against Trump, to drop his Electoral College total below 270 and send the vote to the House.
Each state chooses two sets of voters — one for Republicans and one for Democrats — who are poised to cast their ballots, depending on which candidate wins their state’s vote.
Since Trump won Texas, the 38 Republican electors will vote. If Clinton had won the state, 38 Democrats would have traveled to Austin for the vote.
But in Texas, only 37 will be in Austin on Monday, since elector Art Sisneros of Dayton resigned last month rather than vote for Trump, a man he doesn’t consider “biblically qualified” to serve in the White House.
One of the first orders of business in Texas will be to propose a replacement for Sisneros. Once that person is approved and sworn in, electors will vote.
The state House gallery, where the public gathers to watch goings-on in the chamber, is expected to open in the morning, hours before the Electoral College is scheduled to convene at 2 p.m. Many say the gallery could be crowded, or overflowing, with Republicans who hope to be chosen as a replacement elector.
Texas electors have been invited to private gatherings with Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican Party of Texas before the vote.
So far, two electors — Sisneros, of Texas, and Baoky Vu of Georgia — have said they plan to resign, rather than vote for Trump.
And Suprun is expected to give a candidate other than Trump his vote.
The idea you can take 37 of those from Trump, that’s tough. Those are hard-core Republicans.
Alex Kim, an Electoral College voter from Texas
Others could flip, but many say it’s not likely to be enough to change the election results.
“You may have maybe 10 to 15, but a bunch will be Democrats too who go for Bernie Sanders,” Kim said. “There’s no path for Hillary to win.
“There’s only 153 available votes from unbound electors to take away from Trump. The idea you can take 37 of those from Trump, that’s tough. Those are hard-core Republicans.”
After the votes are cast in Texas and in all the other states, the ballots will be sent to Vice President Joe Biden, who will read them to both houses of Congress in early January. Once Biden does so, the results are official and final.
The last time the Electoral College, which has long drawn criticism from those who believe it’s an antiquated system, fell under such scrutiny was in 2000, when George W. Bush won 271-266 (one voter abstained), even though Democratic nominee Al Gore won the nation’s popular vote.
Protesters are expected to be outside state capitols in all 50 states Monday, encouraging electors to reject Trump.
“The electors have both the constitutional right and the moral responsibility to stop Trump,” said Daniel Brezenoff, who created an Electoral College petition to let electors vote their conscience. “He lost the popular vote and he should lose on December 19 at the Electoral College.”
‘One final check’
This year, the Hamilton electors — a group of bipartisan electors planning to reject Trump, hoping the House can cast the vote for president — have been drawing national attention as they encourage other electors to become faithless.
Lawsuits, and in at least one case an appeal too, were filed in at least three states — California, Colorado and Washington state — as electors hoped to free themselves of requirements that they must vote for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has been checking in with GOP electors, making sure they plan to vote for Trump, even as more Democrats call for the college to reject Trump.
It would be highly, highly unusual for the Electoral College to change the outcome of the election. And they won’t. But the interesting thing is that they could.
Jim Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor
“Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed,” said John Podesta, the top political adviser to Hillary Clinton. “We now know that the CIA has determined Russia’s interference in our elections was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump.”
These are just the latest developments in an already controversial presidential election year that touched on illegal votes, recounts and Russian influence as Trump won the Electoral College vote and Clinton won the popular vote.
“This is an unusual election, and I suspect discussions about its outcome will be litigated and assessed for some time to come,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “And, as is the case for most folks who assessed this election from its beginning, nothing has come out how I predicted it would.
“But it would be highly, highly unusual for the Electoral College to change the outcome of the election. And they won’t. But the interesting thing is that they could.”
Kim and others say they are still receiving emails and letters from those hoping to sway electors.
“The people contacting me are so desperate,” he said. “I’m seeing this awful side of humanity. They can’t accept this for what it is.
“This is the reality. We all know it has happened. While this is what the Electoral College was designed to do, to allow one final check, this wasn’t the kind of check they wanted.”