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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Five things to watch when the Electoral College votes Monday

Five things to watch when the Electoral College votes Monday
By Ben Kamisar - 12-18-16 10:30 AM EST

The 538 members of the Electoral College will meet in their state capitols Monday, almost assuredly sealing President-elect Donald Trump's victory.

Trump won 306 electoral votes on Election Day, crossing the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to clinch the presidency and surpassing Hillary Clinton's 232 electoral votes. Monday's results are expected to match those figures almost exactly.

Even though the frantic push to exert pressure on the Republican electors isn't expected to change the outcome, it's still put the Electoral College under an unusual spotlight.

Here are five things to watch for as the Electoral College casts their ballots.

How many Trump electors defect?

There's no evidence of a widespread number of Republican defections-just one Republican elector from Texas has gone public with plans to break from Trump.

The so-called "Hamilton Electors" pushing for the revolt need to flip 36 more Republicans onto their side in order to throw the election to the House of Representatives. Even that would probably only delay the inevitable, with the Republican-controlled House eventually choosing Trump anyway.

But there hasn't been an election in which more than one elector jumped ship for reasons other than the death of a candidate since 1836, according to the nonprofit FairVote. So a defection by even one more Republican elector would make history.

How many Democrats follow through with compromise pick?

Democratic electors are the ones beating the drums for the revolt, yet they're largely powerless to change the outcome.

A handful of electors are already planning on uniting around a Republican alternative as a protest, but it's still unclear how many are willing to join the protest.

In theory, a unified front of the 232 Democrats could join with 38 Republicans to elect an alternative president. But in practice, the anti-Trump electors will be lucky if more than a dozen Democrats break.

Democratic electors contacted by The Hill opposed that idea both out of loyalty to their party and to Hillary Clinton. Many of those electors were excited to cast their vote to help Clinton become the country's first female president, though now they must settle with her becoming the only woman to receive electoral votes.

"I'm a Democrat, I bleed blue blood. I'm with Hillary," Connecticut elector Barbara Gordon told The Hill.

"I keep hoping for some magic, but for me the magic would not be to vote for a Republican, even though I think any Republican would be better than Trump."

It's also not clear who that more palatable Republican candidate would be. After some electors appeared to settle on Ohio Gov. John Kasich last week, Kasich publicly rebuffed the idea.

Who becomes a "faithless elector"?

The country's presidential electors are chosen through different methods across the country-some are elected directly while others are picked by the candidates themselves or by the state party.

That means presidential electors come from all walks of life.

Some are devoted to their candidate, like Donald Trump Jr. or President Bill Clinton. Others are longtime party loyalists at every level, including Republican National Committee co-chair Sharon Day and a slew of elected officials and local party members.

Since electors aren't expected to defect in significant numbers, it would be big news if one of the party loyalists decides to break-and less so if the rogue electors are not household names.

Bucking their jurisdiction's votes could also have consequences for faithless electors. 29 states and the District of Columbia bind their electors by law, mostly with small fines as retribution for going rogue. No faithless electors have ever been punished, so political junkies will be watching to see if that changes.

What does Trump tweet?

Twitter has served largely as the president-elect's main mouthpiece since his victory. And while he's largely steered clear of the rogue elector debate, he's shown no reluctance to take on his critics on social media-including this week, when he tweeted that Vanity Fair magazine was "dead."

He's also criticized what he views as attempts to delegitimize his campaign, including the accusations that alleged Russian-backed hacking of Democratic email accounts was meant to boost his campaign.

No matter what happens on Monday, Trump's reaction on Twitter will be telling. If a significant number of electors end up fleeing, will he take them on or let it go? And will he claim victory if the vote goes as planned?

Does vote change views on the Electoral College?

The 2016 election has been a crash course for many Americans on the ins and outs of the electoral process. This new attention means voters' attitudes could be shifted by whether the results on Monday are in line with the Election Day figures.

First came the primary, where the specter of a contested convention revealed the possibility that primary voters may not have as much say as they believed they did. And now, the hubbub about the Electoral College is offering a similar lesson.

With Democrats pointing to Clinton's significant popular vote win, there's a new push from the left to scrap the Electoral College all together.

On the other hand, Republican support for the Electoral College has jumped since Election Day. While 54 percent told Gallup in 2012 that they wanted to change the presidential election to a national popular vote, just 19 percent of Republican respondents felt that way after this year's election.

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