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Electoral college switching votes is just a fantasy

Dec 19, 2016

If you’ve been following politics, you’ve probably heard that the Electoral College is meeting today, and is expected to formally ratify the election of Donald Trump as President.

Well, that statement isn’t really true. The Electoral College never “meets” in the sense of everybody going to a central location. What happens is that electors from each state go to their state capitols, including Lansing, and fill out ballots casting two separate votes, one for President and the other for Vice-President.

These will be sent to Washington, where they will be opened and counted at a joint session of Congress, presided over by current Vice-President Joe Biden, who will then formally declare that Donald John Trump has been elected President of the United States.

During the past few weeks, I’ve heard from a number of listeners who are pleading with electors not to vote for Trump. If all the electors vote as they are pledged, Trump will receive 306 votes today; Hillary Clinton 232. But there are those who have fantasies that they can persuade at least 37 Republican electors to instead pick either Clinton or somebody else.

Guess what. That isn’t happening. These are faithful Republicans who are selected as electors as a reward for faithful service to the GOP. In some cases, the Trump campaign had a hand in their selection. These aren’t random people off the street.

The notion that more than ten percent of them would suddenly abandon a lifetime of beliefs and personal connections is pure fantasy. Yes, I am aware that one elector from Texas has said he won’t vote for Trump: One.

If somehow no candidate winds up with the necessary 270 electoral votes, the U.S House of Representatives would decide, with each state having one vote, and their choices limited to the top three electoral vote winners. Republicans control a majority of state delegations. They would happily elect Trump, if it came down to it.

I have always thought someone could have written an intriguing political thriller about the election sixteen years ago. Al Gore, like Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote while losing the electoral one. But even after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened to give Florida to George W. Bush, Gore had 267 electoral votes, only three fewer than needed to win the White House.

What if the Democratic Party, bankrolled by some wealthy high-tech billionaires, had offered $10 million dollars each to the first three Republican electors to vote for Gore?

Hey. We all know people who’d be willing to sell out for far less than ten million dollars. But as far as I know, nobody but me ever even considered that. Instead, one Gore elector from the District of Columbia refused to cast a vote at all, in some sort of incoherent protest that had nothing to do with the election.

We may not know the exact totals until January 6th, when the result is announced at that joint session of Congress. In a poignant touch, the man who had the job of formally proclaiming Bush president in 2001 was the man who lost that election, Mr. Gore.

He may have been robbed, but he accepted the result and played his part with class and dignity. That’s what I expect we will see everyone do today.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's Senior news analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.