The pressure is building against the Electoral College just days before it votes for the 45th president of the United States.
President-elect Donald Trump may have lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes and counting—but his 306 electoral college votes won him the presidency. Those 306 electoral college votes are not, however, set in stone. The 538 members of the Electoral College will meet on Dec. 19 to legally elect Donald Trump as the nation’s next president. Meanwhile, your Facebook feed is likely littered with petitions calling for electors to pick 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton/any Republican candidate other than Trump—or to abolish the 200-year-old institution altogether.
The ability to lose the popular vote but win the electoral college—a mechanism the Founding Fathers created to prevent “an overbearing majority”—is a rare but interesting phenomenon of American democracy. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election is only the fifth time a president has won without the popular vote. Trump was able to nab the Electoral College and lose the popular vote to Clinton by the largest margin in history—beating out George W. Bush‘s record of losing the popular vote to Al Gore by a total of 540,000 votes following the 2000 Florida recount.
Adding further fuel to the fire is the Central Intelligence Agency’s unofficial revelation last week that Russia orchestrated this summer’s hack against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to help Trump win.
Ironically enough, the Founding Fathers’ motives for the Electoral College to elect the president was to prevent foreign interests from making their way to the White House. As Alexandar Hamilton put it in Federalist Papers No. 68, as an independent body that only convenes once a year, there’s a lesser danger that the Electoral College would be prone to corruption or the outside interests of an institution like Congress. Hamilton wrote:
“These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?
But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias.”
A Change.org petition to postpone the Electoral College’s vote pending further investigation of the reported Russian hack of Democratic Party entities has already amassed more than 150,000 signatures. A group of 10 electors—9 of them Democrats—are demanding a briefing from intelligence officials on Trump’s ties to Russia before Dec. 19. And Hillary Clinton‘s campaign voiced its support for the move.
For many of Trump’s critics, the Electoral College’s Dec. 19 vote is the last chance to prevent his ascent to the White House. Following Election Day, electors have been flooded with demands—as well as harassment and threats—to vote against Trump. But some electors have no choice but to vote for Trump. A total of 29 states bind their electors, either by law or by pledge, to the candidate that wins the state’s popular vote.
So-called “faithless electors”—electors who vote differently than the majority of voters in their states—are rare in the history of U.S. elections, but this year they’re more vocal than ever. A group of rogue electors that dub themselves the “Hamilton electors” are attempting to corral enough Never Trumpers in the Electoral College to unite in favor of another Republican presidential candidate, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich or 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Much to the dismay of the Hamilton Electors, Kasich isn’t on board with the plan. “The election is over,” Kasich told the Associated Press.
The Hamilton Electors’ campaign comes amid elector efforts in Colorado, California, and Texas that push back against a victory for Trump. Still, most experts agree that preventing a Trump win by way of the Electoral College is wishful thinking. Like Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein‘s doomed vote recount, the purely citizen-fueled effort has virtually no support from the Democratic establishment and is fraught with legal obstacles. Even in Pennsylvania—where electors are not bound by law—the state’s 20 electors are loyal to Trump and show no signs of wavering.
Rogue electors aside, the vast majority of Electoral College have no interest in defying their states and altering the outcome of the election.