With all eyes on the Electoral College as its members meet in their states Monday to formally elect Donald Trump as the next president, last-ditch efforts to get the electors to vote against the Republican candidate are in full swing. But a new report suggests that at least one such effort will have little impact on the outcome of the election.
A petition, signed by 10 electors last week asking for an intelligence briefing regarding Russia's influence on the US election, was denied. The request was in response to concerns about a report from the CIA that Russia had conducted hacks of the Democratic National Convention with the purpose of electing Mr. Trump to the White House.
Except for one Republican elector, the original 10 signers of the petition were Democrats, evidently hoping to convince their fellow electors that evidence for Russian interference in the election would be enough to convince Republican electors to change their votes in an attempt to keep the controversial president-elect from the White House. But despite multiple schemes to change the outcome of the election in the college, it is likely that there will be no consequential surprises for the American public following the formal vote on Monday.
Most analysts agree that it was unlikely that the petition for electors to receive an intelligence briefing on Russian hacking would have been effective in changing a substantial number of voters' minds. While so-called "faithless electors" have cropped up throughout US history, changing their votes to support a candidate other than the one that won their state, the practice is rare and has never swayed a presidential election. But considering the unusual nature of Trump's candidacy and Hillary Clinton's lead of nearly 3 million in the popular vote, many electors had hoped that an intelligence briefing might be the final straw that could persuade some Republican electors to change their minds about casting a vote for Trump. As Ellen Powell reported for The Christian Science Monitor:
Most years, the role of an elector is a purely ceremonial one: electors vote as directed by their state's popular vote. This year, however, the Electoral College has been in the spotlight. A Texas elector who resigned rather than vote for Trump made national headlines. After Trump won the Electoral College – despite Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton winning at least 2.6 million more votes – some, like outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California have called for the abolition of the Electoral College. Others, including the so-called Hamilton Electors, have asked electors to choose a consensus Republican candidate rather than Trump.
For the electors who signed the letter to the National Intelligence director – up to 29 signatures by Tuesday morning – their role is “not just a ceremonial thing,” Bev Hollingworth, a retired hotel owner and New Hampshire elector, told ABC News. Being informed about the ongoing investigation will allow electors to fulfill a constitutional duty that “goes beyond politics,” she said.
But to get an intelligence briefing, electors would have to get security clearance, an unlikely event even on a temporary basis. And, as expected, NPR reported on Friday that the electors would not be receiving an intelligence briefing.
"The President has recently directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a review of potential foreign interference in presidential elections dating back to 2008," reads a statement from the Office of the Director of International Intelligence in response to the petition. "This effort is ongoing and involves sensitive classified information. Once the review is complete in the coming weeks, the Intelligence Community stands ready to brief Congress and will make those findings available to the public consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods."
Despite the defeat for the intelligence-briefing petitioners, Trump critics still have not given up the attempt to change Republican electors' minds on the eve of the election. Various schemes, including an attempt to get some Democrats to vote with Republicans for a more establishment Republican like John Kasich, have been suggested with little odds of success. More noticeable, perhaps are the huge amount of emails and letters from ordinary US voters that have been pouring into the mailboxes of members of the electoral college for weeks in an attempt to get 37 Republican electors to vote for someone other than Trump.
"Honestly, it had an impact," Carole Joyce, a Republican state committee member for Arizona, told The Washington Post, referring to the extensive correspondence.
"But I signed a loyalty pledge. And that matters," she added.
While there is no national law requiring electors to vote for the winner of their state's popular vote, many states are able to fine or invalidate the vote of an elector who does not vote as advertised, and many electors are bound by pledges and party oaths to vote a certain way. Even if enough electors changed their votes to eliminate Trump's 270-vote majority in the electoral college, the final decision would go to the Republican-controlled Senate, which would likely elect Trump anyway.
But despite the unlikelihood of success, many Democrats think it's worth the attempt.
"We have been getting a civic lesson we weren't prepared to get," Vinz Koller, a Democratic elector from Monterey County, California, told The Washington Post. "They gave us the fail-safe emergency brake, in case the people got it wrong. And here we are, 200 years later. It's the last shot we have."
On Monday, electors from around the country will cast their ballots for president and vice president on separate ballots. The votes for each state will be sent to Washington during a joint session of Congress on January 6, when the votes will be counted and the winner of the election will be formally announced by Vice President Joe Biden. The president and vice president will then be sworn into office on January 20.