More than 100 million Americans will have their votes counted on Election Day, but the outcome of the election could hinge on the whims of one man in Washington state.
Robert Satiacum is one of Washington’s electors in the Electoral College. He, along with 537 other electors, are the ones who actually determine who becomes president in December, about a month after Election Day.
Electors are expected to vote for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote, and they almost always do. But Satiacum insisted last week that should Hillary Clinton carry Washington — which she is expected to do easily — he will not vote for her.
At least three other electors — another Sanders supporter from Washington who opposes Clinton, and two Republicans from Georgia and Texas who oppose Donald Trump — have said they are considering voting against their states’ wishes if they don’t agree with them.
The move wouldn’t be unprecedented. In American history there have been 157 “faithless electors.” Not all of them acted out of protest — 63 electors in 1872 flipped their votes when their candidate, Horace Greeley, died after Election Day, but before the electoral votes were officially counted. And faithless electors have never actually swung the outcome of an election.
But consequences for faithless electors are surprisingly light, which may explain why the issue continues to pop up every so often in presidential elections. Laws vary from state to state, but in Washington, Satiacum faces a fine of just $1,000 for going against the state’s popular vote. (He’s said the penalty won’t stop him.)
If Tuesday’s election comes down to a razor-thin margin, or in the rare event that Clinton and Donald Trump finish with a 269-to-269 electoral tie, Satiacum’s choice could have major consequences.
In the event of an electoral tie, or if neither candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, the election would be passed to the House of Representatives, with each state’s delegation receiving one vote. There are more Republican states than Democratic ones, so the House may be inclined to choose Trump in that situation, even if Clinton wins on Election Day. But there would certainly be pressure for the House to honour the results from Election Day.
If a faithless elector actually pushed a losing candidate over the 270 threshold, it would open a legal can of worms in which the final say could end up with the Secretary of State from the elector’s state. For this election, that could mean the president of the United States could be determined by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
Such an improbable outcome has never happened in American history. But there’s a slim chance that for a small price, one man could make the 2016 election last well past November.
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