A change.org petition that calls on members of the US Electoral College to cast their votes for Democrat Hillary Clinton instead of Republican Donald Trump had more than 1.3 million signatures by late Thursday.
Clinton won the popular vote in Tuesday’s presidential election, 60,269,080 votes to 59,930,946 for Trump. The peculiarities of the Electoral College, however, gave Trump the victory, 290 electoral votes to Clinton’s 228, making Trump the fifth minority president in US history.
Lady Gaga urged her supporters to sign the petition, noting “half the population” is in fear a Trump presidency will mean a loss of rights.
Members of the Electoral College meet in their state capitals Dec. 19 to vote for president and vice president. Forty-eight of the 50 states award their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, while Maine and Nebraska award theirs by congressional district with the votes representing the states’ two senators going to the top vote-getter.
“We are calling on the electors to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for Secretary Clinton. Why?” the petition reads.
“Mr. Trump is unfit to serve. His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault and utter lack of experience make him a danger to the Republic.”
The petition says even in the 24 states where changing the vote is not allowed, a vote for Clinton “would still be counted,” with the elector required to pay a small fine, “which we can be sure Clinton supporters will be glad to pay!”
Demonstrators took to the streets across the United States Wednesday and Thursday to protest Trump’s win. In Los Angeles the protesters burned the president-elect in effigy. In Las Vegas, Chicago and New York, demonstrators gathered at Trump towers to chant, “He’s not my president.”
The rancor follows a divisive campaign in which much of Trump’s rhetoric vilified minority groups, immigrants and women.
In claiming victory early Wednesday, Trump promised to be a president for all Americans in his first attempt to heal the divisions.
The widespread carping with the system is not new. As Five Thirty Eight reports, “there have been more proposed constitutional amendments to change the Electoral College than any other topic (700 proposals in Congress in the last 200 years!).” Gallup found in 2011 that 62 percent of Americans favor eliminating the institution.
To avoid the need for a Constitutional amendment, reformers have been working to get states to adopt the National Popular Vote bill, in which they promise to award their electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationally. So far, it has been enacted into law in 11 states, with a total of 165 electoral votes, and will take effect when adopted by states with 105 more, guaranteeing 270 electoral votes, a winning margin, to the popular vote winner.
In perhaps the supreme demonstration that Trump’s passionately stated views on politics are transactional, just four years ago, on the night that President Obama was declared the electoral-vote winner before all the ballots had been counted, the developer called for people take to the streets in “a revolution” to end the Electoral College.
Trump’s Twitter tirade that night was sparked by his mistaken belief that Mitt Romney had won the popular vote.
Minutes after the polls had closed on the West Coast that night, at 11 p.m Eastern Time, the broadcast networks called the election for Obama on the safe, and accurate, assumption that he would win overwhelmingly in California, Oregon and Washington. Clearly not understanding that these states would ensure that Obama would go on to win the popular vote, even though he was trailing in that count as the projection was made, Trump launched into a Twitter tirade.
Trump subsequently deleted some of those tweets, but screenshots were saved by several readers, including a New York magazine writer.
His final word on the subject from that night, calling the system “a disaster,” remains on the social network.
Electoral College origins
The Electoral College was devised at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was a compromise meant to strike a balance between those who wanted popular elections for president and those who wanted no public input. Alexander Hamilton wrote, “If the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.”
At the time, the country had just 13 states, and the founders were worried about one state exercising outsized influence, according to a white paper from the US Election Assistance Commission. Small states were worried that states with large populations would have extra sway. Southern states with slaves who couldn’t vote worried that Northern states would have a louder voice. There were concerns that people in one state wouldn’t know much about candidates from other states. The logistics of a national election were daunting. The thinking was that if candidates had to win multiple states rather than just the popular vote, they would have to attract broader support.
How it works
The electoral system has been tweaked over the years, but the gist endures. The president is selected by a “college” of 538 electors from the states. Each state gets as many electoral votes as it has members of Congress, and the District of Columbia gets three. To be elected president, the winner must get at least half the total plus one – or 270 electoral votes. Most states give all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the state’s popular vote. So while Clinton is leading Trump in votes nationwide 47.7 percent to 47.5 percent, Trump’s total in the Electoral College stands at 290, with races in Michigan and New Hampshire yet to be called. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore narrowly won the popular vote but lost to Republican George W. Bush in the Electoral College 271-266. Overall, there have been four such cases of divergent elections.
A lot has changed since the Electoral College system was established, making many of the original reasons for its existence outdated: The US now manages to run national elections quite well. Voters nationwide have no shortage of information about candidates. Slavery no longer exists. But there are still concerns that small states and rural areas would be ignored in favor of those with bigger populations if the race hinged strictly on the popular vote.
In 1967, a commission of the American Bar Association recommended that the Electoral College system be scrapped, finding it to be “archaic, undemocratic, complex, ambiguous and dangerous.” Fifty years later, critics are still complaining, arguing that the system results in huge swaths of the country being ignored while candidates focus on a dozen or so battleground states.
“It’s a terrible system,” says George C. Edwards III, a Texas A&M professor who’s written a book on the subject. Edwards tracks every campaign stop by the major candidates, and he says big states that are sure to vote for one candidate or another – say, California for the Democrats or Texas for the Republicans – now get completely ignored, and small states largely get overlooked, too.
Is change afoot?
Don’t count on it. Republicans have benefited the most from the system in recent years, and they’re in control of Congress. However, there is an effort underway to get around the winner-take-all aspects of the system without abolishing the Electoral College.
A group called National Popular Vote is pushing an interstate compact under which states would pledge to deliver all their electoral votes to the nationwide winner of the popular vote. Over the past decade, 11 states have approved such a bill.
John Koza, chairman of the group, is quick to point out that both Trump and Clinton are on record in recent years saying the system is flawed. He’s hopeful Trump’s election won’t make Republicans less amenable to changing it.
“We’re talking about a policy change that’s largely dictated by the need to create a 50-state campaign for president instead of a 12-state campaign for president,” says Koza.