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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Electoral College is set to meet Monday, where electors are expected to make official Republican Donald Trump’s surprising November victory in the presidential election.
Each state may send a certain number of electors to the college calculated by their representation in Congress. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to achieve a majority and win the presidency. In most cases the winner of the popular vote in a given state will win all of that state’s electoral votes, although some states do allow their electoral votes to be divided.
The Democratic candidate, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, defeated Trump by nearly 2.9 million votes in the national popular vote. But the Republican Trump won where it mattered, in enough of the state-by-state contests to claim an apparent 306-232 edge in the Electoral College, well more than the 270 majority he needs.
Clinton piled up big vote margins in California and New York to give her a national popular vote edge, while Trump won enough states, sometimes relatively narrowly, to claim the Electoral College advantage and a four-year term as the nation’s leader. It would be the fifth time in U.S. history, and the second in the last 16 years, that the popular vote winner did not win the all-important Electoral College vote.
Usually a formality but not this year
In most election years, voting in the Electoral College is little more than a formality. But that is not the case this year.
Because of the close and bitterly contested race, and continuing opposition to Trump’s victory by many Clinton supporters, thousands of Americans have bombarded the 306 Republican electors with emails and phone calls, demanding they reject Trump, either by voting for Clinton or another, more acceptable Republican. In the unlikely event that 37 Republican electors defect from Trump and the vote ends in a tie at 269, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would pick the president.
Most of the electors, however, are bound by state law to vote for the candidate who won their state vote count, or if they are not, say they feel morally compelled to vote in the Electoral College the way their state voted.
Faithless electors – those who cast Electoral College votes for someone other than the presidential candidate who won their state – are not unheard of in American political annals, but they are rare, with just a handful since the Electoral College was first used in 1789.
Several U.S. news media outlets who have interviewed at least some of the 2016 electors say the vast majority are planning to back the winner in their state, with only one known Republican elector, Chris Suprun in the southwestern state of Texas, saying he would not vote for Trump.
Suprun, however, told VOA that the number of faithless electors is “more than just me. I’m thinking we’re working toward the (37) we need to throw this to the House of Representatives.”
He declined to say whom he would vote for on Monday. He said Trump has “proved himself to be a demagogue,” continuing his attacks on people who criticize him since the election, much the same as he did during the lengthy presidential campaign.
Some analysts have predicted there might be more defectors than Suprun, but until the Electoral College ballots are counted on January 6, no one knows for sure.
Trump used a Twitter post Sunday to criticize the efforts to oppose him.
“If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned and called terrible names!” he wrote.
If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned & called terrible names!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2016
The country’s Founding Fathers debated how to pick the country’s presidents, deciding against using the popular vote for fear that mob rule might ensue or that the biggest states would have too much control of the ultimate outcome. It settled on the Electoral College, in part to give even the smallest states at least three electoral votes.
As it currently stands, seven states and the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C., each have three electoral votes. The Pacific coast state of California has the most, at 55.