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Electoral College under intense focus in controversial election year

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The 538 select Americans that will gather at state capitols across the US on Monday, who are expected to officially pick Donald Trump as the 45th US president, are now facing calls by Trump’s opponents to disregard the election results.

The arcane and often ceremonial institution has received more attention than usual in this controversial presidential election year, when every election process from closed primaries to recounts has received extra scrutiny.

The electors are nominated by the political parties in each state and in Washington, DC. Each presidential candidate has their own unique set of potential electors in each of the states. When Americans voted on November 8, they weren’t directly voting for the candidates whose names appeared on the ballot, but rather for an elector to go to the Electoral College on December 19 and vote for their candidate.

Currently, 306 electors are pledged to vote for Republican President-elect Donald Trump and 232 are pledged to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Voting is conducted between 9am and 3pm, with the vote expected to be called shortly before 6 pm.

There has been much discussion over whether Electoral College members could decline to vote, vote for another candidate, or switch party allegiance after Donald Trump, a Republican candidate who was critically denounced by leading members of his own party throughout the campaign, surprisingly emerged victorious.

There was also the suggestion that Hillary Clinton’s remarkable lead of 2.8 million in the popular vote might affect the outcome of the Electoral College vote.

There is no constitutional provision or federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results in their states. However, 29 states do have laws stating just that. Despite that fact, no elector has ever been prosecuted for what is referred to as “faithless” voting.

“Refusal or failure to vote for the candidates for president and vice-president appearing on the Michigan ballot of the political party which nominated the elector constitutes a resignation from the office of elector, his vote shall not be recorded and the remaining electors shall forthwith fill the vacancy,” the Michigan law reads.

Apart from the state laws, Democrats and others hoping to encourage Republican dissenters to switch their vote or decline to vote have been intensely focused on the Electoral College voters. Here are the top three:

Hollywood Flattery

In a video lasting just two minutes and 23 seconds, a roster of Hollywood actors that includes Martin Sheen, who played a president in the popular TV series “West Wing,” appealed to Republican Electoral College members, asking 37 of them not to vote for President-elect Donald Trump.

Thirty-seven is the new magic number, as if 37 of Trump’s 306 electors do not vote for him, he would have only 269 electoral votes – one short of a majority.

If that happens, and it is a long shot, and neither Trump nor Clinton receives a majority of the electoral votes – then the House of Representatives would decide who becomes president.
Unite for America, which sponsored the video, appears to be a new Super PAC – a type of independent political action committee that can raise unlimited sums of money, but can’t contribute directly to a candidate. Although it has yet to send an account of its disbursement to the Federal Elections Commission, early indicators show that the fund is somehow tied to MoveON.org, a Soros-backed Democratic-friendly political fund.

Dissenters & Death Threats

According to Harvard professor Larry Lessig, there may be as many as 20 members who are least considering not voting for Trump.

The one member who has gone public is Christopher Suprun of Texas, who has said that, since his announcement, he has received email in support, but also death threats. He said he will vote for another Republican because Trump “chose to stoke fear and create outrage.” 

He also admits there’s a chance he could be wrong about Trump.
“If Donald Trump turns out to be the next Ronald Reagan, great. Maybe history will prove me wrong. I would welcome that. But we won’t know if I was right to do this or not until 20 years from now,” he told Houston Press. “I’ve made a decision, and it’s not necessarily a popular one, but I have to do what I think is right.”

Several Electoral College electors resigned to avoid casting their votes for Trump, and at least seven more – Democrats in Colorado and Washington State who call themselves the Hamilton Electors – will not vote for either Trump or Clinton, and cast protest votes for a candidate not named.

These Hamilton Electors are planning to try to convince Republican electors to vote for a third candidate in the hope that this may put the Electoral College into deadlock or result a different candidate being elected.

Another Texas elector, Art Sisneros, stepped down from his position rather than vote for Trump, but all that did was promote another Trump elector to vote in his place.

Electors who are to cast their votes for Trump say that they are being harassed. Michigan Electoral College member Michael Banerian told RT that he has received “hundreds and hundreds of e-mails, Facebook messages, and letters to my home about four or five a day, tweets.”

“And in some messages, unfortunately, there were death wishes and generally angry messages from people who can’t accept the results of the US election,” he said.

Earlier, in interviews with the US media, Banerian claimed that he had received death threats saying “I’m going to put a bullet in the back of your mouth,” and other ill wishes, such as “I hope you die” or “do society a favor and throw yourself in front of a bus.”

Texas’ elector Alex Kim, who also says he has received threats, told the US media that he responds with a simple message: “You may all go to hell, and I shall go to Texas.”

Russian interference

Clay Pell, a Democrat Electoral College member from Rhode Island, has led the charge with nine other electors, including one  Republican, who say that the election process has been tarnished by Russian interference and are asking for more information before casting their votes on Monday. This week, he sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper demanding a briefing. The letter has now received 20 signatures.

“We as electors have a narrow role, but nonetheless it’s a role in protecting the integrity of the election,” Pell told reporters this week, according to AP.

During his year-end press conference at the White House, President Obama blamed the highest levels of the Russian government for hacking the Democratic National Committee and the emails of its chair, John Podesta. Obama said that he had confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin “directly” about the matter when meeting with him in China in September. The US leader reportedly told Moscow “to cut it out, and apparently, since then, Washington “didn’t see further tampering of the election process.” However, by then, WikiLeaks had already begun publishing the DNC leaks, Obama added, saying that the media “wrote about it every day.”

However, the majority of Americans voters said in last week’s poll that the leaked information that the Obama administration claims came from cyber-attacks conducted by Russia had no real effect on the election’s outcome.

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