The full US electoral process cannot be explained, understood and captured in this article, however, the intention is to give the non-Americans an idea on a single page.
On 9 Nov 2016, the US citizens voted for the president elect – Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States. It may be surprising to know that the American public do not elect the President and Vice President directly. Instead, they choose “electors” who pledge earlier to vote for candidate who wins in the party. As we speak, there are 538 electors corresponding to 435 representatives and 100 senators in the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively and 3 from District of Columbia. This method is in practice since the 1880. Maine and Nebraska use another method called Congressional District Method; however, also ends up selecting electors. Therefore these 538 electors who constitute the United States Electoral College (USEC) is the body that elects the President and Vice President of the US every four years. The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) for the office of president or of vice president is elected to that office.
Now the moot questions is – Can the elector, who had earlier pledged to vote for the candidate who wins in the party, vote contrary to the pledge?
The short answer is – Yes. The elector is not required by any federal law to honor the pledge. Twenty-one states do not have laws compelling their electors to vote for a pledged candidate.
Once the elector has voted, his or her vote can be changed only in states such as Michigan and Minnesota, where votes other than those pledged are rendered invalid. In the twenty-nine states that have laws against faithless electors, a faithless elector may only be punished after he or she votes. Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia have laws to penalize faithless electors, although looks like these have never been enforced. In lieu of penalizing a faithless elector, some states, like Michigan and Minnesota, specify the faithless elector’s vote is void, though no state has yet had cause to enforce such a provision
So on which occasions have the elector voted against the pledge?
The elector can vote against his pledge (also known as faithless electors). Some states have laws against faithless electors. Despite 157 instances of faithlessness as of 2015, faithless electors have not yet affected the results or ultimate outcome of any other presidential election. During the 1836 election, entire delegation of 23 electorals faithlessly voted against victorious Vice Presidential candidate Richard Mentor.
On 22 occasions, 179 electors have not cast their votes for President or VP as prescribed by the legislature of the state they represented. Of those, 71 electors changed their votes because the candidate to whom they were pledged died before the electoral ballot (1872, 1912). Two electors chose to abstain from voting for any candidate (1812, 2000).The remaining 106 were changed by the elector’s personal interest, or perhaps by accident. Usually, the faithless electors act alone. An exception was the 1836 election, in which all 23 Virginia electors acted together.
In 2004 election an anonymous Minnesota elector, pledged for Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards cast his or her presidential vote for John Ewards, rather than Kerry, presumably by accident. (All of Minnesota’s electors cast their vice presidential ballots for John Edwards.) Minnesota’s electors cast secret ballots, so unless one of the electors claims responsibility, it is unlikely the identity of the faithless elector will ever be known. As a result of this incident, Minnesota Statutes were amended to provide for public balloting of the electors’ votes and invalidation of a vote cast for someone other than the candidate to whom the elector is pledged.
Which nominees lost the election prior to Hillary Clinton in spite of winning the popular vote?
So far, 5 US presidential nominees who won popular votes have lost the elections. In the year 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but received less than half of the electoral votes and lost out to John Quincy Adams. A few decades later, in 1876, Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost the election by one electoral vote to Rutherford B Hayes. In 1888, Grover Cleveland also clinched the most popular votes in the country but conceded his 168 electoral college votes to Benjamin Harrison’s 233 electoral votes. In 2000 Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost out to George W Bush. The result was so close in Florida – a key battleground state – that Mr Gore contested it and the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. The recount of ballots led to Mr Bush gaining 271 electoral votes versus Mr Gore’s 255 votes.
Can the Electoral College elect Hillary Clinton on Dec. 19?
Yes, it may be constitutionally possible.
A Change.org petition, now signed by more than 4.3 million people, encourages members of the Electoral College to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton when the college meets on Dec. 19. The petition argues that Donald Trump is “unfit to serve” and that “Secretary Clinton WON THE POPULAR VOTE and should be President.”
“If they all vote the way their states voted, Donald Trump will win,” the petition states. “However, they can vote for Hillary Clinton if they choose. Even in states where that is not allowed, their vote would still be counted, they would simply pay a small fine – which we can be sure Clinton supporters will be glad to pay! We are calling on the Electors to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for Secretary Clinton.”
The USEC will cast their vote on Dec 19, 2016. Who will be the next US President – only time will tell.