Understanding the Electoral College: 'A process not a place'
Casey Crawford is, unexpectedly, a popular man.
His work computer holds 70,000 recent emails from across the country. Hundreds of written letters clog his mailbox. Reporters call, asking for a few minutes of his time.
The reason is simple: Crawford, from Lee’s Summit, is one of 10 Republican presidential electors in Missouri. He’s promised to vote for GOP nominee Donald Trump on Monday, when he and other electors gather in state capitals to actually elect the next president.
But because Missouri electors aren’t required to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote, thousands of Americans have contacted Crawford and his Missouri colleagues in recent days to try to persuade them to support someone else: Hillary Clinton, a different Republican, maybe to not cast a ballot at all.
It hasn’t worked, at least so far. Missouri’s 10 electors — and the six in Kansas, who are also unbound by law — appear solidly committed to supporting Trump. The Republican easily won the popular vote in both states.
“Are there things Donald Trump could do tomorrow that would change my vote? Absolutely,” Crawford said. “If he went on a murdering spree. … At this point, though, I’m voting consistent with the will of the people.”
Mark Kahrs is a Kansas elector. He, too, has been bombarded with requests to change his mind. He won’t do it.
“Never,” he said. “If I couldn’t honor the votes of Kansans, I would step down and let someone else serve as an elector.”
In most years such pledges would be unnecessary. Members of the so-called Electoral College, like Kahrs and Crawford, would gather quietly in December to cast presidential ballots, and that would be that.
But for the second time in 16 years, the winner of the national popular vote is projected to get fewer electoral votes than the second-place finisher. The split has touched off a furious backlash from Democrats, and a small handful of Republicans and independents, who call the Electoral College undemocratic.
They’ve posted the names, email addresses and phone numbers of unbound electors on websites, urging like-minded voters to reach out before Monday. That’s why electors report a deluge of emails and phone calls.
The suggested reasons for an electoral vote change are many: alleged Russian interference in the election, Clinton’s popular vote victory, even a suggestion Trump’s foreign businesses present an unconstitutional conflict of interest.
“The Founding Fathers intended the Electoral College to stop an unfit man from becoming president,” claims the website Hamiltonelectors.com, a group named for the founder who argued for independent electoral votes. “The Constitution gives us this tool. Conscience demands that we use it.”
Republicans, and Trump, scoff at such efforts as sour grapes from the losing side. Everyone knew the rules, they say, before voters cast their ballots in November. The game shouldn’t change now.
“It hurts when you lose,” said Kelly Arnold, a Republican elector in Kansas. “They use this as an excuse. Some people just can’t understand losing.”
Opposition to Trump electors has turned ugly in some places, with harassment of electors reported. One spouse of a Missouri elector claimed to know of death threats to electors in other parts of the country. Protests are planned in all 50 states Monday, when electors gather to cast their ballots.
Kansas electors plan to meet in Topeka, in the state Capitol, at noon. Missouri electors will meet in Jefferson City in mid-afternoon.
Some Democratic electors have asked for a briefing on allegations of Russian involvement in the election. So far, there’s been no indication such a briefing would be made available to electors.
There has been a legal push as well, so far largely unsuccessful. So-called faithless electors lost a round in court Tuesday, when a judge said Clinton electors who planned to support someone else must either cast their ballots for the Democrat or be replaced. Colorado law binds electors to the popular vote in that state, as do laws in 29 other states and the District of Columbia.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig offered free legal help to electors considering a vote switch. He also said 20 GOP electors are considering a flip, although he provided no hard evidence of the claim.
At least one Republican elector, from Texas, says he will not cast his vote for Trump.
Yet few activists think they can actually switch enough electoral votes to cost Trump the presidency. He’s now projected to get 306 electoral votes, with 270 necessary for victory.
But they think if enough electors defy the popular vote it would rattle the Electoral College system, increasing momentum for a change. That would require a constitutional amendment — highly difficult, given GOP control of the Congress and a majority of state legislators.
Some Democrats have pushed a multi-state “compact” that would commit states to support the national popular vote winner, regardless of the outcome in any particular state. The compact wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment, but wouldn’t take effect until states representing 270 electoral votes join it.
So far, compact supporters are far short of that goal.
“It’s all a shadow play,” columnist Jeff Greenfield wrote this week. “Entertaining, provocative, but bearing no relation to current political reality.”
Kansas and Missouri electors appear to agree. Spokesmen for the Republican Party in both states say they know of no potentially faithless electors in either state.
And for all the headaches, electors appear to embrace their roles in choosing the next president. They call it an honor worth the phone calls and emails from strangers hundreds of miles away.
“It’s been a great experience,” Casey Crawford said. “It best represents the will of the states.”