On Nov. 8, most Americans think they elected the next president and vice president of the United States. Actually, they did not. Instead, all they did was select Electors to the Electoral College. The actual vote to decide the next president is not until Monday, Dec. 19, when the Electoral College meets.
Well, the Electoral College does not actually “meet.” That is because the Electoral College is not actually a college or even a place. Instead, it is a process with three steps. The selection of Electors on Election Day was only the first step in the process.
The second step involves the Electors from every state gathering in their state’s capital to meet and cast their ballots. Georgia’s Electors will meet under the Gold Dome at the state’s Capitol.
Assuming one candidate receives 270 votes, then the election has effectively been decided. But, there is actually a third step which involves the Congress actually counting the votes of the Electors and announcing the next president and vice president of the United States.
Every state differs in the technicalities of the process with some states legally binding Electors to the majority vote in their state and others dividing them according to percentage. Some do not bind the Electors at all, while others attach criminal penalties for failing to vote in accordance with state law.
Sometimes, as when President Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 over former Vice President Walter Mondale by a 525-13 margin, it is largely ceremonial. At other times, as in 2000 when President George W. Bush won by a 271-266 margin, it can be a bit dicey. After all, if just two Electors had decided to change their vote, or simply not vote, it could have changed the outcome of the entire election.
Notably, the outcome of the Electoral College is not tied to the popular vote. So, on more than one occasion, the president-elect and vice president-elect did not win the popular vote. Instead, it is the vote of the Electoral College that decides the next president.
In every presidential election year, the passions run deep. That was especially true this year. So, the level of attention that the Electoral College is receiving is unusually high. Of course, the lopsided likely result of the Electoral College compared to the popular vote has only driven the attention way up.
As a result, every Elector, especially those in states that President-elect Donald J. Trump won, has been bombarded with emails, letters and phone calls begging them not to vote for President-elect Trump on Dec. 19. Most are form emails or letters. But some are quite creative with baby pictures and stories. Others are handwritten, a few even signed with teardrops.
Regardless, they all reflect just how much division the country must overcome. For that many people to take that much energy, time and effort demonstrates a lot. If nothing else, the sheer volume reflects a level of involvement unlike anything in recent election history.
Needless to say, the projected winner pays close attention to the Electors in every election. This one is no different with the Trump/Pence team along with the Republican National Committee keenly focused on every Elector. Indeed, they have a dedicated operation to make sure that every Elector fulfills their pledge to support the president-elect and the vice president-elect.
No one actually believes that the enormous effort to badger the Electors will cause any of them to actually change their vote from President-elect Trump to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Instead, the goal is apparently to get enough Electors to either quit or not vote that President-elect Trump is deprived of the necessary 270 votes to be elected as the next president.
But if something like that was even remotely possible, the election would be decided by the U.S. House of Representatives. While Speaker Paul Ryan and President-elect Trump have had their differences, no one believes that the Republican-controlled House would not elect Donald J. Trump.
So, all of the fuss is just a lot of kerfuffle. The Electors will meet in their respective states and the District of Columbia and cast their ballots. The Congress will meet on Jan. 6, 2017, and count the Electoral Votes and announce the winner — Donald J. Trump as president and Gov. Mike Pence as vice president.
On Jan. 20, 2017, at noon, the new president will take the oath of office and the United States will have a new president. It is the essence of the peaceful transition of power of the most powerful nation on the planet.
Ballots, not bullets, signal the change. It is what separates this country from so many others. It is the genius of the Founding Fathers who invented this process over 200 years ago.