'Faithless Electors' Top Out at 7; Trump Officially President-elect

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December 19, 2016

In the end, the number was 7. That was the number of presidential electors who voted for someone other than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. So Trump will be the next President.

The U.S. President has almost always been the winner of the Election Day popular vote. (In fact, Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, by more than 2 million votes.) However, the President is the candidate who receives the most votes in the Electoral College.

Four other times in American history, the winner of the electoral vote was different from the winner of the popular vote. The last such occurrence was in 2000, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but Republican George W. Bush won the electoral vote. Three such instances occurred in the 19th Century:

Democrat Andrew Jackson won the most popular votes in 1824; however, no candidate received a majority of electoral votes. John Quincy Adams triumphed in the electoral vote after another candidate, Henry Clay, withdrew his candidacy and pledged his electoral votes to Adams, who subsequently had more than enough.

Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the electoral vote in 1876 despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden.

In 1888, incumbent President Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but Republican Benjamin Harrison triumphed in the Electoral College.

Trump, on Election Day, had won states that equated to 306 electoral votes, more than the 270 (of a total of 538) needed to become President. No third-party candidate won any electoral votes, so Clinton's electoral vote total was nominally 232.

Despite a few well publicized attempts to convince electors to ignore their instructions, the vast majority of the 538 people who went to their respective state capitols on December 19 voted as they were told to vote. Three electors from Colorado who had launched a lawsuit seeking to remove their state's penalty for ignoring electoral voting instructions initially refused to vote for Clinton, who won Colorado, but voted for her in the end. (One elector refused a second time and was replace by an alternate, who voted as instructed.)

Other states reported similar initial reticence, and some states replaced reticent electors with people who voted as instructed.

The seven exceptions were these:

  • Two electors from Texas voted not for Trump, who had won the most popular votes in that state on Election Day, but for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a onetime presidential candidate himself, and for another onetime presidential candidate, former Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
  • Four voters from Washington, which Hillary Clinton won on Election Day, voted for two other people entirely: Three voted for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and one voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Sioux nation who helped stop development of the Keystone XL pipeline and is involved in the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline.
  • One Hawaii elector voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who mounted a spirited challenge to Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

State laws in Hawaii and Washington require electors to vote as instructed; Washington law provides for a fine of $1,000 for noncompliance, but Hawaiian law has no such provision. Texas has no law instructing or requiring electors how to vote.

The official record will, therefore, state that Trump received 304 electoral votes and Clinton received 227.

The final step in the electoral process will be a January 6, 2017, joint session of Congress, at which the results of the electoral voting will be read aloud. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President on January 20, in Washington, D.C.

The total of exceptions was the largest number of "faithless" electors since 1808, when six electors from New York cast their presidential ballots not for the Democratic-Republican Party's candidate, James Madison, but for his running mate, former New York Gov. George Clinton. Madison won the presidential election handily anyway.

The last time that an elector voted for a candidate not from either major political party was 1972, when a Republican elector from Virginia voted not for Richard Nixon, who had won that state's popular vote, but for the candidate of the Libertarian Party, John Hospers.

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