Melinda Smyser, one of Idaho's 4 presidential electors, poses in Boise on Nov. 17. | AP Photo

When the Electoral college meets Monday because that the 58th time in American background to actors the only official vote because that president, that is 538 members will be acting as the most an effective political college in the world.

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Yet there’s small understanding of that these 306 Republicans and 232 democracy are, the duty they play, or how they to be selected. That’s due to the fact that presidential electors have actually never done anything more than rubber-stamp the outcomes of the general election.

But a activity of restive democratic electors is threaten to upend that extremely scripted legacy in an attempt — yet unlikely — to prevent Donald Trump indigenous winning the presidency.

In current weeks, democratic electors and their allies have actually clamored to change the Electoral College into what they insurance claim Alexander Hamilton plan it to be: a deliberative body the serves as a buffer in between the renowned vote and the choice of a United states president, and also safeguards versus the election of one unqualified president. They’re optimistic that translate of its role results in a rejection of Trump once the human body meets next week. That a long-shot effort — and also one Republican leaders space working come guard against.

Here’s a viewer’s overview to how the Electoral college works, who will actors the votes, what to watch because that — and what could go wrong.

Who are the presidential electors?

Behind every electoral poll is one actual human being.

One is also related to democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She husband, previous President bill Clinton, is a brand-new York elector and is slated to take trip to Albany to actors his ballot.


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Electors under siege

Electors no officially picked till Election Day. As soon as voters go to the polls, castle actually casting ballots for your party’s slate of electors, rather than a presidential candidate. Despite Trump and also Clinton’s names show up on the ballot, they’re really stand-ins for electors. And the statewide popular-vote winner determines which party sends its slate to the Electoral College.

Trump won the well-known vote in 31 states that incorporate 306 electoral votes — and, together a result, 306 members of the Electoral College will certainly be republic from those states. Clinton won the well-known vote in 19 states and also the district of Columbia, including up to 232 electoral votes — i beg your pardon is why 232 democrats will sign up with the Electoral College as well.

How perform people become electors?

Electors earn their positions with complicated and often random procedures that different from state to state — and that’s the source of the unrest plaguing the Electoral college today.

Democratic and also Republican state next nominate their very own slates the electors — part as early on as the spring and also others together late together October. In countless states, elector candidates space picked at conference district and also state conventions, when neighborhood activists likewise pick your delegates to the national convention. Elector contests room usually afterthoughts compared with the more sought-after convention roles.

In Missouri, this procedure helped elect a Republican anti-abortion activist called Tim Dreste, that was judge in the 1990s because that inciting violence versus abortion providers. In Michigan, republic at your state convention determined William Rauwerdink, who served jail time because that a massive bookkeeping fraud scandal that also required him come pay nearly $300 million in restitution. In Texas, a autonomous elector candidate called she supported Jill Stein for president and also ran to be an elector come raise awareness because that a girlfriend convicted on medicine charges.


But the most crucial factor — and the one contributing to recent unrest — is the fact that plenty of electors were selected in the warm of a divisive and protracted 2016 primary season. As a result, elector slates in plenty of states were packed through supporters of Bernie Sanders and also Ted Cruz, countless of whom to be left embittered through the outcome of divisive primaries.

In other states, electors room picked by party leadership, causing a more controlled procedure that rewards donors and also insiders. In Ohio and brand-new York, because that example, the Trump campaign worked v the state GOP to identify loyal electors.

California’s process may be the oddest the all: The winners the the democratic primary in each of the state’s congressional races — and also its most recent 2 Senate races — nominate electors. That’s why House autonomous leader Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Christine is an elector, and also Rep. Xavier Becerra’s daughter Olivia and Dianne Feinstein’s nephew Eileen.

How plenty of electoral votes does every state get?

Under write-up II that the Constitution, every state is allocated a variety of electoral votes same to its number of seats in conference — plus two for that senators. That way low-population states prefer Montana, Wyoming and Alaska obtain three electoral votes. California it s okay the most, v 55 electoral votes. Texas it s okay 38, while Florida and brand-new York each obtain 29.

Article II actually gives state legislatures the power to choose electors, yet that process has been outsourced to political parties.


In all, there room 538 electoral votes — one for every member of Congress and the Senate, and three because that Washington, D.C. Typically, once presidential candidates win the famous vote in a state on election Day, castle claim every one of that state’s electoral votes. That winner-take-all mechanism has become the norm, and also it exists in every state other than Maine and also Nebraska, which award votes to the statewide winner, and likewise to the winner of every congressional district in the state.

To come to be president, a candidate need to amass 270 electoral votes, a majority.

When walk the Electoral college meet?

Federal regulation prescribes that the members conference in their corresponding state resources on “the very first Monday ~ the second Wednesday in December.” This year, it’s Dec. 19.

What do electors in reality do when they meet?

It’s various in every state. Some organize grand vote-casting ceremonies; rather are much more low-key. Yes sir no set process for the means electors cast their votes various other than that they execute it ~ above the same day. Every elector gets two votes: one for president and one because that vice president — a process laid the end by the 12th Amendment.

To cast their votes, federal legislation prescribes that each elector authorize six certificates. One gets mailed come the president of the Senate — Joe Biden in this case. 2 others go to your state’s secretary the state. Two more go come the national Archives. The last goes to a local judge.

Some claims have enabled electors to cast a secret-ballot vote, others have dubbed for public procedures for proclaiming votes. There room no rules that govern whether electors have to announce their intended vote prior to they compose it down.

What room “faithless” electors?

Any electors that refuse to support their party’s presidential candidate are referred to as “faithless.” and also they’re a rarely breed. There have been only 157 in history, and also most that them cast ballots in the 19th century.

The last time over there was an ext than one faithless vote against a presidential candidate occurred in 1832, once two Maryland electors abstained. The most ever before in a presidential vote came in 1808, as soon as six Democratic-Republican electors rubbish James Madison. (Faithless votes against vice presidential candidates have actually been slightly an ext common.)

The last time an elector cast a faithless vote? that was 2004, once a autonomous Minnesota elector actors a vote for man Kerry’s to run mate, john Edwards.

This time, there are 10 electors — nine Democrats and also one Republican — threaten to abandon their parties’ candidates as part of an effort they’re hoping persuades 37 republic to join them and also block Trump’s election. The arrangement is together radical as it is unlikely. But even if they obtain no extr support, they could eclipse the 1808 election — and also potentially disenfranchise numerous voters in the process.

Can faithless electors be stopped?

This is the milliondollar-question. In at the very least 21 states the answer is no. But 29 states have actually laws ~ above the publications that require electors to support their party’s candidate. There’s prevalent — even bipartisan — belief that those laws may it is in unenforceable and unconstitutional, but they’ve never ever been tested or applied before.

In three states — California, Colorado and also Washington — democratic electors space suing to invalid binding laws, hoping that a broad federal court ruling can gut the legislations in all 29 says and free dozens that Republican electors to vote against Trump. Castle routinely point out Alexander Hamilton in your arguments. It to be Hamilton in the Federalist records who outlined the ide of the Electoral College together a deliberative human body that can act together a check on famous whims.


A 1952 supreme Court election left the concern open. The ruling in ray v. Blair figured out that politics parties might extract pledges from electors — but those oaths can’t necessarily be enforced.

Late Friday, advocates for releasing electors got their an initial ever legitimate decision validating their argument. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court the Appeals, i m sorry covers Colorado, Utah and also a slew the Midwestern states, said state officials might be constitutionally barred native removing electors as soon as they start casting your ballots. And also they mapped out a legal route that supporters of freeing electors can follow.

What wake up after the vote

The votes sent to the chairman of the Senate will be check out aloud throughout a Jan. 6 share session of Congress, follow to provisions in federal law. The certificates will certainly be unsealed and read alphabetically through state and also recorded. If over there are any type of disputed votes, members could lodge objections and, ultimately, both branches would deal with them.

How most likely is it that 37 GOP electors will certainly vote against Trump?

Not very. Just one Republican elector, chris Suprun of Texas, has declared that he intends to vote against Trump, and efforts by anti-Trump pressures to rustle up extr names have actually yielded none ready to come forward publicly. Though Harvard university constitutional law professor Larry Lessig has asserted to have actually upward the 20, there’s to be no proof that he and also his allies room making inroads. Republican nationwide Committee public official who conducted a whip counting of the 306 GOP electors said they mean Suprun to it is in the just defector. “We expect everything to fall in line,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.”

What would occur if 37 Republican electors voted versus Trump?

If 37 or much more Republican electors ditched trump card — and no various other candidate won a majority — the election would be sent to the Republican-controlled house of Representatives.

In that scenario, each state delegation would acquire a single vote because that president. And also their choices are minimal to the peak three electoral vote-getters, two of whom are virtually certain to be Hillary Clinton and also Donald Trump. There room 32 says with majority Republican delegations and 17 states with autonomous majorities. One state has actually a tied delegation.

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If the residence were can not to provide a majority of votes to any of the 3 candidates, the final selection would remainder with the Republican-controlled Senate.