What Is The Electoral College? Who Are The Hamilton Electors?


What’s the deal with the electoral college? Why does it even exist? Who are these faithless Hamilton electors? Are they going to make a difference?

The electoral college is not a college. It’s a term that political scientists and journalists and other people interested in such things started using in the late 19th century to refer to the individual state electors as a group. They don’t all ever show up at the same place.

Who are the electors?

Electors are appointed by Democrats and Republicans at the state level. We have 538 electors, one for each member of Congress and the Senate. Some of the founding fathers wanted Congress to select the president. Others thought that wasn’t much of a representative democracy. So, long story short, they compromised and decided to select responsible (white, male) citizens (who were also rich enough to own property), one for each member of the legislative branch, who would cast votes for the president. Very few of them even considered the idea of a popular vote. The popular vote began with the 12th amendment, which passed in 1789.

Some states have rules discouraging electors from voting against the candidate who won the most votes cast by individual voters (aka the popular vote). On top of that is the fact that electors aren’t picked for their tendency to buck the system; it’s exactly the opposite. They’re the party faithful. Electors on both sides are selected for their loyalty and activism within the party. The Trump electors who have spoken to the press are proud to be voting for him and of supporting the GOP.

(Screencap via History.com)

Is that what Hamilton envisioned for the electoral college? No. In colonial times, the tug of war between the federal and state governments was even more pronounced than today. They were still deciding how much power the federal government would hold versus the states. The electoral college is a concession to the states’ struggle against a strong federal government.

What’s the deal with faithless electors?

Faithless electors are members of the electoral college who do not vote for the candidate they’re pledged to. There have been only 157 faithless electors in the history of our country. This list of all the faithless electors from Fair Vote gives some fascinating insight into the history of electoral college voting in our country.

Right now, there’s a group of 40 faithless electors who call themselves the Hamilton electors. They’re trying to change the outcome of this election. Thirty-nine of the 40 faithless electors are Democrats pledged to Clinton, and their plan is to not vote for her, but write in another candidate. One faithless elector is a Republican pledged to Trump, and he’s planning to write in John Kasich (who does not want to be written in). If enough Trump-pledged electors join with the plan to make it an electoral college tie, or at least bring Trump under 270 votes, then Congress gets to pick which candidate gets to be president. Even if Clinton loses 39 electoral college votes, as long as Trump is still under 270, Congress votes.

Here is math:
306 Trump electors + 232 Clinton electors = 538 electors
306 – 37 = 269 electoral votes for Trump
269 + 269 = 538 = electoral college tie

And here is a graphic representation of the current electoral college vote balance by Philip Bump for The Washington Post.

2016 Electoral College Analysis by Philip Bump for the Washington Post (Screencap via Philip Bump and The Washington Post)

What are the chances?   

Is there a chance Hillary Clinton would win a majority of votes in Congress? These are the same Republicans who’ve been spending the last eight years saying no to Democrats and the last 30 slandering Hillary. Is there really a chance they dislike Trump that much? If anything, I think they’d go for Mike Pence.

Could faithless electors flip the vote and elect Clinton? It’s theoretically possible. Enough electors would need to not vote for Trump, and either vote for Clinton or a write-in candidate, while at the same time, all Hillary-pledged electors stay faithful. But is it probable? Highly unlikely. Not only would more than 37 electors need to abandon their pledged votes, but they would all need to be pledged to Trump.

Why aren’t my elected officials doing anything about this?

Don’t assume that public officials aren’t trying to sway the electors just because it didn’t make the news. All kinds of people on both sides of the aisle are deluging electors with pleas to switch or maintain their votes. It’s just not the kind of thing most elected officials are going to run to the press about. If there are electors who are thinking of flipping, I’d think they’d want to keep it quiet so they literally don’t get killed between now and December 19. This is politics on the downlow.

Why the conflicting reports about the number of faithless electors?

The people who are speaking to the press have axes to grind, and nothing to lose by speaking with the press. These aren’t press releases and interviews: they’re political calculations. Republican lobbyists and activists say they don’t know of any Trump electors who are thinking of flipping. Democratic lobbyists and activists say they know of between one and 40. It’s even possible that none of these people are lying about what they’ve heard from the electors they’ve spoken to.

Electors are as susceptible to information bubbles as everyone else. The news sources you choose to take in bias your reaction to the election results, on both sides. Really, both sides. Some news may be more real than other news—that’s one problem here. So one side may be biased toward reality and the other toward propaganda. Not naming any names here or anything!

Next: 10 Celebrities Who Need To Run For President As Democrats

Maybe something highly unlikely will happen when the electors vote. Maybe there are Things Going On Behind Closed Doors that will change the course of history. But don’t hold your breath.