Millions are petitioning the Electoral College to make Hillary Clinton president -- here's why that probably won't happen

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the week since the election, outraged that Donald Trump is the new president-elect.

Since Hillary Clinton likely won the popular vote, over 4 million have signed a petition to encourage the Electoral College to make Clinton president instead.

The electors will gather at their state capitols in December, and vote to formally make Trump the 45th president.

With so many citizens calling on the Electoral College to choose Clinton, and some electors even saying they will switch their votes, could it happen?

How does the electoral vote stand right now?

Each state has an elector for every congressperson they have, plus D.C. gets three, resulting in 538 people in the Electoral College.

Trump won the popular vote in 30 states, plus one of Maine’s districts (which, along with Nebraska, splits up its electors by district), giving him 290 electoral votes. Michigan’s results still aren’t official, but given that Trump only needed 270 to win, it doesn’t really matter.

While Clinton won almost 1 million more votes than he did overall because she carried population-heavy states like California and New York, she only won the popular vote in 19 states plus D.C. — giving her 232 electoral votes.

How would electing Clinton work?

Members of the Electoral College who decide to go against their state laws or traditions telling them who to vote for are quite ominously called “faithless electors.”

They’re pretty rare in modern political history. Thomas H. Neale, an expert in American government and the electoral college for the Congressional Research Service, found that only eight electors have been faithless since 1900.

Only electors from the party that won the popular vote get to cast their ballots in December, so only Republican electors will vote in the states that Trump won, and only Democratic electors in the states Clinton carried.

If Trump wins Michigan as he’s projected to do, Clinton would need 38 electors to vote for her instead. And if she carries the state, Clinton would need 22 electors to flip.

“Even if Michigan’s 16 electors went to Clinton, it would still be 290-248, and that’s a lot of electors,” Neale told Business Insider. “That would require a lot of electors to change their mind.”

What are the chances of it actually happening?

Several barriers are in place preventing electors from turning “faithless.”

First, Neale said, 30 states plus D.C. have laws on the books “binding” their electors to vote for the candidate who won the state’s popular vote. Punishments for becoming a faithless elector range from paying a fine to being replaced with an elector who will follow the rules.

Trump has 155 unbound electoral votes, so there are technically enough electors who could decide to vote for Clinton who wouldn’t get punished legally for it.

Second, electors are usually selected by the political parties in each state, Neale said. Because at least 290 electors voting in December will be Republicans, the petitioners encouraging them to vote for Clinton instead would have to convince them to abandon their party.

“The important point here to realise is these are all party loyalists, and they are pretty carefully vetted,” Neale said. “Part of that is because there have been the occasional faithless electors in the past who have been an embarrassment to the party, and they want to make sure they avoid it.”

A few electors have spoken out about being faithless (they call it being “moral”), but unfortunately for Clinton, they have said they plan to write in former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, or Sen. Bernie Sanders’ name.

But members of Congress can formally protest any faithless elector votes, and have them thrown out, when they officially count the ballots in a joint session on January 6, 2017.

“One of my legal colleagues suggests that the joint session is the ‘break glass in case of emergency’ — it’s the last line of defence against an election that may have been corrupted in some way,” Neale said.

Finally, history isn’t on Clinton’s side.

“The argument can always be made that, ‘Well, Sec. Clinton won the popular election and therefore she should win the presidency.’ This is the core argument of the direct popular election reform movement to eliminate the electoral college,” Neale said. “But that argument has been raised time and time again, and Congress hasn’t acted on this proposal since 1979.”

Plus, the few times faithless electors have gone against their party’s nominee, they have never swung an election.

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