For those among us who are hard core “never count us out until the last bell sounds,” or “the last second ticks off,” here’s something to chew on.
Even though Mr. Trump has already had a first transition-of-power meeting with outgoing President Barack Obama, and has already started picking his new presidential staff, officially, it ain’t over yet. The victory, though already universally declared, does not actually occur until December 19, 2016, when the 538 electoral college delegates meet in their respective state capitals (and Washington, D.C.) and cast their votes per their state election results, and those votes are certified by each secretary of state.
Sure, he’s on the one-foot line, but he’s not crossed the goal line yet. As we’ve seen in numerous athletic and other political contests, inevitability can be overrated.
In an unlikely, improbable scenario, here’s what can happen. Within the next three or four weeks, the news media can report that American intelligence officials have positively identified Russian hackers being responsible for altering the votes in several swing states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
Coupled with the current facts that Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by a larger margin than did Gore over Bush in 2000, and the continuing public protests (so far over 25 cities in 15 states) against Mr. Trump’s victory, as unlikely as it may be, a significant number of electors, specifically from the states mentioned above, could cast their electoral college votes for Mrs. Clinton, rather than Mr. Trump. The combined total—50—of just those four states would give Mrs. Clinton 283 electoral votes, and reduce Mr. Trump’s to no more than 258.
Certainly, there is no historical precedent for this kind of result. Though there have been at least 157 past instances of “faithless electors” casting votes for candidates other than those they were pledged to support, none of those votes changed the outcome of a national election. At the same time, there is no historical precedent for another country blatantly interfering in a U.S. presidential election either (although 19th century England clearly had supporters in the U.S. who unsuccessfully tried to sway elections).
If, in fact, such an improbable scenario occurred on December 19, even if enough electoral delegates did not switch to Mrs. Clinton, but just did not vote at all, reducing Mr. Trump’s totals to less than 270, the whole affair could wind up as an issue for the House of Representatives to decide, via the rules of the Constitution. In that case, clearly Mr. Trump would be favored to win since it would require a simple majority (51%) for victory rather than two thirds, and the Republicans have many more current members than that. However, a significant number of those members are “Never Trump” adherents and may join with the Democrats to deny the presidency to Mr. Trump.
Clearly, all of this is speculative. But, as stated by an optimistic movie character, it could happen.
Aren’t electoral college delegates required by law to vote as pledged?
In 29 states they are, but punishment for breaking their pledge and voting for another candidate or not voting at all, is minor—usually a $500–$1,000 fine, or a misdemeanor infraction, and censure by political party peers. Such state laws have never been enforced, and the tendency has always been to depend on the integrity of the electoral delegate to honor his/her pledge to vote for the candidate chosen by state voters. With adroit Russian hackers in the picture, everything changes.
The USA has always prided itself on being the world’s best model of democracy in action. With the large number of public protests going on, and more planned especially for inauguration day, that role modeling is now on a downward spiral. Changing the predicted electoral college vote can restore that pride of democratic exceptionalism.
Otherwise, the 2016 election may finally also spell doom for the electoral college system in this country, and open the door to a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact agreement that each state will award its electoral votes to the overall winner of the popular vote. Ten states and the District of Columbia have already agreed to do this. The 2016 election will undoubtedly attract more. This option avoids the only other alternative available for changing the electoral college system, which is to amend the U.S. Constitution. That is not a good bet any year.
Stay tuned, you who never-say-die. This may yet get better.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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