When the Framers designed the Constitution as the nation’s founding document, they created several institutions and instruments to protect the United States from tyranny of the majority. They worried that citizens would be so uninformed or carried away by emotional fervors of the moment that they might support outrageous policies or elect into office unfit and dangerous candidates. As such, the provision for an Electoral College was included in the Constitution to serve as a final check on the country’s vote for president. There were other reasons for establishing the Electoral College, such as ensuring that less populous states were not irrelevant in the election process, however the primary concern was preventing the American people from electing an unqualified, threatening candidate into the White House.
The Electoral College is comprised of 538 electors, each state’s vote-count representing its number of House representatives plus its two senators; the final three come from the District of Columbia. The electors are chosen by each state’s political parties, and they tend to be officials within the party itself or elected officials from the state. Occasionally, they will have a close connection to the party’s candidate, as Bill Clinton was a New York elector in this past election cycle. The Framers trusted that these individuals would be informed, pragmatic, rational leaders who could be trusted to vote their consciences in accordance with the best interests of the American people. This meant either verifying their states’ votes for president or rejecting the vote in order to avoid a potential crisis in the Oval Office.
We then reach the issue of pledged v. unpledged electors. According to FairVote.org, “21 states still do not require their members of the Electoral College to vote for their party's designated candidate.” The other 29 states have some statutes to penalize electors for voting against the party’s candidate, but they have never been enforced. As such, electors are in a position to vote in any direction they choose, which is why there has been an immense amount of coverage for today’s Electoral College vote.
Technically speaking, Trump secured 306 electoral votes on Election Day, based on the states he won. In his ideal scenario, he will actually receive all 306 of those votes when the Electoral College meets today to cast their ballots for president and vice president. However, pundits argue that the Framers had intended for the Electoral College to prevent a candidate like Trump from ever stepping foot in the White House. His sheer lack of policy knowledge, his willingness to lie to the American people and make up facts when convenient, and the potential hazard he poses to international diplomatic efforts serve as reasons enough for electors to split from their parties and not vote for Trump. This does not entail them necessarily voting for Clinton, however, as they might vote for a third-party candidate or abstain altogether. In the event that a candidate does not meet the 270-vote majority threshold, the vote is then sent to the House, where a Republican majority would decide the outcome of the election.
At this point, a handful of electors have announced that they will not vote for Trump, but it is still not enough to shift the election. However, there might be electors who have not announced that they are deviating from the party’s candidate. Some pundits argue that the Electoral College will inevitably select Trump, as electors are positioning to climb up through the party’s ranks and thus will not do anything to upset the party’s leaders.
As the electors gear up to vote today, what do you think will happen?