Anti-Trump effort still focused on finding faithless electors

posted at 5:01 pm on November 30, 2016 by John Sexton

With the Hillary/Stein swing-state recount effort likely going nowhere, some Democrats are still pinning their hopes of preventing Trump from becoming president on persuading enough electors to violate their commitments and become so-called faithless electors. The immediate problem with this approach is that many states have laws requiring electors to vote for the candidate whose party won the state. But as Politico reports, Democrats are gearing up to send a group of lawyers out to defend anyone who chooses to challenge those laws:

Leaders of the effort, mainly Democrats, have plans to challenge laws in the 29 states that force electors to support their party’s candidate. Those laws have never been tested, leaving some constitutional experts to argue they’re in conflict with the founders’ intention to establish a body that can evaluate the fitness of candidates for office and vote accordingly.

Several sources involved with the legal planning also confirmed that they’re preparing to roll out a coalition of lawyers prepared to defend, pro bono, any electors who vote in opposition to their party’s candidate on Dec. 19, when the Electoral College meets to cast the official vote for president.

Those efforts are parallel to a drive by at least eight Democratic electors in Colorado and Washington state who are lobbying their GOP counterparts to reject their oaths — and in some cases, state law — to oppose Trump when it comes time to cast their votes.

With Trump having won 307 electoral votes, 37 faithless electors are needed to change the results of the election. Some of the electors would almost certainly come from states where it would be against the law for an elector to change his or her vote. However, if there are lawyers offering to represent you it’s possible a few more electors might consider a last minute shift. That would be followed by a court battle which could almost certainly drag on past inauguration day.

But in addition to their long-shot but short-term goal of stopping Trump, the effort also has a longer-term goal: convincing more people to dump the electoral college entirely. The thinking is that if it’s no longer illegal for electors to change their votes, Americans will begin to question what the point of the whole exercise is anyway. Why not remove the electors entirely? At least that’s what the people behind this movement hope will happen.

Democrats have a few problems they probably aren’t going to overcome. First, with regard to the short-term goal, persuading people to abandon their commitments doesn’t go well when the persuasion involves threats of violence, constant harassment and verbal abuse. If anything, that sort of behavior is going to cause Republican electors to dig in their heels.

As for the longer term goal, changing state laws is going to be difficult when Democrats are in control of so few state legislatures. As Politico notes, the GOP is actually in a position in many states to push this debate in the other direction:

“It could be the autonomy of electors is going to come under very close scrutiny,” said Robert Alexander, an Electoral College expert from Ohio Northern University.

George Edwards, a Texas A&M professor and prominent Electoral College critic, said eliminating electors altogether and making electoral votes simply automatic would be another option Republicans might consider.

Like the recount effort and the bill to abolish the electoral college with a constitutional amendment, this Democratic effort probably won’t amount to much.


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