Could the Electoral College defeat Donald Trump?

Dhaka,  Sat,  23 September 2017
Published : 26 Nov 2016, 20:42:16

Could the Electoral College defeat Donald Trump?

M. Serajul Islam
The US presidential election 2016 was followed in Bangladesh with much more interest than previous US elections in recent times for a variety of reasons. In the process, many aspects about how the US president is elected have become known to most Bangladeshis for the first time. For instance, they came to know that the US presidential election is not a direct election but an indirect one; that Americans when they vote on the day of election, vote to elect the 538 members of the Electoral College who later meet in Washington more than a month later to elect the president formally.

Thus they are surprised to learn that Hillary Clinton with more that 2.2 million more popular votes lost the election because Donald Trump won 306 Electoral College votes against her 232 where 270 is the number to cross to become the President. The 538 Electoral College votes are distributed among the 50 states and Washington DC on the basis of population. Within each state and DC, the candidate who wins by getting the maximum number of votes takes all the Electoral College votes in that state and DC.

Thus although Donald Trump won 306 Electoral College votes and Hillary Clinton, 232, she was able to get those 2.2 million more popular votes. In the past, a president won the election with a lesser number of popular votes on four previous occasions. Recently, in 2000, Al-Gore had more popular votes to his credit than President GW Bush. Nevertheless, Gore's margin was 540,000 - a million and a half less than what Hillary Clinton has won in the just concluded election.

The significant margin of popular votes cast for Hillary Clinton has already underlined a major flaw in the way the US presidential election is conducted. To the rest of the world, this margin has reflected that the claim by the United States as being the world's oldest democracy notwithstanding, it is a democracy that is flawed in many ways. Donald Trump has won on an agenda which contains many aspects that fundamentally contradict the US Constitution (like his call for a ban on Muslim immigration) and American values, and it reeks of outright racism. Yet, in the end, it is the indirect election through the Electoral College that has allowed a candidate with such an unbelievable agenda to win.

Donald Trump understood the flawed nature of the Electoral College and used it to his advantage. He calculated that his racist message had takers among the working class Whites in the Democratic Party in the blue states of Wisconsin, Michigan and in the critical swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Thus when even his own campaign team was literally begging him to stop insulting and humiliating the blacks, Hispanics, and the Muslims, he kept on insulting them knowing the more he did so, the more the critically needed working Democratic whites in the four states would turn the election in his favour and that is what happened in the end!

Since the election, Donald Trump has been blowing hot and cold, mostly hot on his racist agenda. He has taken into his administration controversial members of his campaign team with well-known links to the alt-right, men who are openly and unashamedly racist and anti-Muslim like Steve Bannon and Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. That has sparked a large number of protests in the public domain that the country has never seen in the past after the conclusion of a presidential election, the unexpected nature of the results notwithstanding. 

Noted filmmaker Micheal Moore, concerned with the possibility that the new administration could introduce some form of registration for the Muslims without caring that it would be grossly illegal and unconstitutional, has addressed a letter to Donald Trump. He has titled that letter as "We are all Muslims" suggesting that should the new administration try to carry out the threat of registration for Muslims, American Christians and Jews of all colour would voluntarily call themselves Muslims as in the United States as per its law, there is no database on its citizens based on religion!

Therefore although Donald Trump has won the election, a huge number of Americans, including whites,  Hispanics, and Muslims have come out protesting against the president-elect underlining that there are many things about him and the administration he is in the process of naming with which they have serious problems. A march of two million women is planned for the day of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 46th President of the United States scheduled to take place on January 20, 2017.

In the midst of all these, a new element about the way the United States elects its President is emerging, the issue of the "faithless electors." Legally and constitutionally, what happened on November 08 was that the American voters elected the 538 members of the Electoral College without even knowing anyone of them. Under the Electoral College system, the political parties submit names to each of the 50 states' election board and the one in Washington DC a list of names against the number of electors allocated to the state/DC in the Electoral College much ahead of the day of the presidential election. Thus when a candidate wins in a state/DC, all those that the party names to be the members of the Electoral College automatically become electors in the Electoral College who meet in Washington and formally elect the President.

The electors of US presidential election 2016 would meet and vote in Washington on December 19 to formally and legally elect the next president. The custom, not the law, has established that these members of the Electoral College would vote without fail for their respective party's candidate. Nevertheless, in isolated cases, some of the members elected to the Electoral College have in the past crossed the party line. Those who cross party line are called "faithless electors" but such incidents of electors crossing party line have been so few and with no impact at all on the outcome of electing the president that very few even know of it at all.

Many things are happening in the post-election America where Donald Trump instead of being congratulated for winning is being seen as a threat to the country in terms of its values. In addition, a serious conflict of interest situation in relation to his business is emerging. He has settled the case against him for fraud in the Trump University with an out of court settlement with the 6000 accusers with US$ 25 million. Leading computer scientists have formally written to the Chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign that outside hackers, perhaps from Russia, have hacked into the electronic voting system in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states that Donald Trump was not supposed to win but he did nevertheless and that was where the expected victory of Hillary Clinton was turned into defeat.

There are moves by many, isolated though, who still hope they would be legally able to stop Donald Trump from becoming the next President. They are appealing the Electoral College so that just 38 of them who have become electors of the Electoral College in the Republican list to vote for Hillary Clinton as "faithless electors" in answer to their conscience to save the country, its values and its Constitution. The "faithless electors" should they answer to their conscience would not be legally in any serious problem because the punishment for voting against the party is unbelievably benign.

The chances of "faithless electors" emerging on December 19 and defeating Donald Trump are however zero per cent. This notwithstanding, the legal position is that such a thing could happen. That such a discussion is indeed taking place does not place Donald Trump and his alt right team who would be in his administration in any position of strength. Instead, these issues could very well combine to have the sobering influence on Donald Trump to realise the difference between rhetoric and policies now that he would be taking charge of the most powerful political office in the world.

The writer is a former Ambassador.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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