17 December, 2016
Most voters in the United States marked their ballots in the presidential election on November 8. But they did not vote directly for a candidate. Instead, they chose what the Constitution calls electors.
On December 19, 538 electors will meet at statehouses across the country. They will mark their own ballots to officially choose the 45th president of the United States. The electors are members of the Electoral College.
The meeting of the electors usually receives little attention. But this year, opponents of President-elect Donald Trump have tried to urge the Electoral College to deny him the presidency.
Forming the Electoral College
In the late 1700s, some founders of the United States wanted members of Congress to be able to choose the president. They did not trust that voters would always make a good choice.
Others wanted voters to directly decide.
So, as a compromise, the founders created a system they called the Electoral College. Members meet after the election to formally choose the president. Electors normally mark their ballots for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state. But the system does permit electors to vote for someone else.
The number of electors for each state is equal to its members of Congress. This means states with bigger populations have more electors and states with lower populations have fewer.
The Electoral College system can create a situation in which a candidate wins more popular votes nationwide, but still loses the election.
Before the 2016 election, that had happened only four times in American history.
Some Voters Hope for "Faithless Electors"
This November, 65.7 million people voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump received 62.9 million votes.
But Trump won the presidency because he won the most electoral votes.
If Trump receives all of the electoral votes on Monday from the states where he won the popular vote, he will have 306. The winning candidate must have at least 270 electoral votes. That is the majority of the 538 total votes.
Although Hillary Clinton won more votes nationally, she only won 232 electoral votes.
For the results of the election to change, 37 Republican electors would have to vote against their states' voters and choose Clinton instead of Trump. That would make them "faithless electors."
Experts say that is unlikely to happen.
Only one Republican elector has publicly said he will not vote for Trump. That elector is Christopher Suprun. He lives in Dallas, Texas. He told VOA that he believes Trump is not qualified to be president. He is also worried that Trump will be more loyal to his many businesses than to the country.
Lawrence Lessig is a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University. Earlier this week, he said, as many as 20 Republican electors were considering not voting for Trump. But that could not be confirmed.
There is no federal law that requires the electors to vote for the candidate who received the most votes in their state. But 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws that control how electors vote. However, many constitutional lawyers do not believe those laws can be enforced.
Larry Tribe is also a professor at Harvard Law School. He says it is not likely that Trump will lose in the Electoral College. But he says electors, in his words, "have a responsibility to the country and the Constitution, in extreme enough situations. And I think this is a pretty extreme situation."
A group that calls itself the Hamilton Electors is working to urge electors not to vote for Trump. The group is named for Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the United States. He was also one of the main founders of the Electoral College.
The group notes that the founders designed the system to keep someone unfit for the presidency from taking office.
The group wrote on its website that it honors "Alexander Hamilton's vision that the Electoral College should, when necessary, act as a Constitutional fail-safe against those lacking the qualifications from becoming president."
Others believe electors should change their votes because of recent intelligence reports. They suggest that the Russian government stole information from computers of some Democratic Party officials.
The reports say the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believes Russia did so to help Trump win the election. On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it supported the CIA's findings.
Trump has dismissed the CIA report. He says there is no evidence that Russia was involved in the hacking.
But a growing number of electors are worried that Russia did try to help Trump win. At least 67 electors have asked for information from the intelligence community about the suspected Russian activities before they vote on Monday.
All but one of those electors are Democrats. Experts say this shows that the campaign to convince Republican electors not to vote for Trump has failed.
I'm Caty Weaver.
And I'm Ashley Thompson.
VOA National Correspondents Carolyn Presutti and William Gallo reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
nationwide – adj. including or involving all parts of a nation or country
vision – n. a clear idea about what should happen or be done in the future
fail-safe – adj. certain not to fail; capable of compensating automatically and safely for a failure
qualification – n. a special skill or type of experience or knowledge that makes someone suitable to do a particular job or activity (usually plural)
hack – v. to secretly get access to the files on a computer or network in order to get information, cause damage, etc.
convince – v. to cause (someone) to agree to do something