On Monday, the 538 members of the electoral college will gather in state capitols across the country to cast their votes for the next president of the United States. With 306 electoral college votes under his belt to Hillary Clinton’s 232, that person will almost certainly be Donald Trump.
The iota of doubt that remains comes from an unprecedented eruption of discontent from electors, the body of 538 people chosen by the two main political parties to cast the electoral college vote. Under the peculiarities of the American system, the president is not chosen directly by a “one person-one vote” policy: indeed, Clinton won the popular vote on 8 November by some 2.9m ballots.
Instead, it is the indirect electoral college vote, parceled out by a complicated formula and awarded to the candidate who won each state, that is the final arbiter of who occupies the White House. This year, at least eight of the 538 have indicated that they intend to break ranks with modern tradition and vote against their party in a protest directed squarely against Trump.
All but one of those rebels are Democratic, which is not coincidental. Many of these Democrats see the electoral college as the last-ditch hope of stopping Trump – the idea being that if their example can encourage their Republican fellow electors to follow suit and rally around a compromise alternative candidate, the Trump presidency can yet be abated.
The chances of that are exceptionally slim. The only Republican rebel to come out so far is Christopher Suprun, an elector from Texas. On the Republican side, nobody knows the extent, if any, of a potential uprising by electors beyond him. A survey by Associated Press found little enthusiasm among Republican electors for joining the rebellion.
Yet the Harvard law professor Larry Lessig said this week that at least 20 Republican electors were seriously considering defecting. No names of that elusive 20 have emerged and no one knows how many will actually carry through with the protest by voting for an alternative Republican to Trump.
All that we do know is that 2016 will go down in the history books as a seismic year for the electoral college. Here, six of the so-called “faithless electors” who intend to rebel on Monday explain in their own words what is driving their historic action.
Polly Baca, 75, Colorado
In June 1968, I was in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Robert Kennedy, who I was working for as a campaign staffer, was assassinated. Kennedy was my hero and I was devastated by his death.
But the despair I had then doesn’t even come close to how I’m feeling now. Today I’m afraid for my country. I’m afraid that we will be propelled into another war. My fear of Donald Trump is that his intent is not to ensure that the US is solid and safe and a leader in the world, but to aggrandize himself and make money.
I had the privilege when I was younger of going twice to the Soviet Union as a guest of the American council of young political leaders. I learned there that the main factors that distinguish a dictatorship are efforts to destroy freedom of assembly and freedom of speech and the press. Those are precisely the same freedoms that Trump has been attacking relentlessly.
As electors, we have the responsibility to stop him. I would love to see 37 Republican electors vote for Hillary Clinton on Monday – after all, she did win the popular vote. But if we can’t get that, then I am willing to support a viable Republican alternative.
Christopher Suprun, 42, Texas
Though Donald Trump won my state of Texas, I’m intending to write in a different Republican candidate when I come to vote. I haven’t decided yet who that will be.
I know that I am not alone. There are other Republican electors who are considering voting for a not-Trump candidate who have talked to me about it. I am very comfortable that I will not be the only Republican on Monday voting according to their conscience.
Donald Trump is a demagogue. He is not thinking about our national well-being or security. Rather he appears to be profiting from foreign connections that are forbidden under our constitution.
Our founding fathers specifically created the electoral college to protect smaller states from the tyranny of the majority. Electors should have a deliberative role – otherwise, why not just use jelly beans or bricks to deliver the final decision?
Since I announced my intention to vote according to my conscience, I have received about half a dozen death threats against me and my family. More happily, a person I’ve known for years who traces his ancestry back to the American revolution told me he thinks his forebears would have been proud of what I’m doing, which made me feel pretty good.
Bret Chiafalo, 38, Washington state
Stopping Donald Trump is an emergency. It’s a moral imperative – we simply have to prevent a man like Trump from being elected to the presidency.
There’s thousands of reasons why I say that. He has shown himself repeatedly on Twitter, in his phone call to Taiwan that overturned decades of diplomacy, in his clear ability to hold a grudge about the smallest of slights, that he is incapable of controlling his feelings. Such hot-headedness can cause wars.
I’d also point to the way he seems to be influenced by foreign powers. The founding fathers specifically warned us about that when they framed the electoral college. Russia is only one such example of the conflicts of interest that stand between Trump’s business holdings around the world and the country’s interests.
It is assumed that electors must just vote sheep-like for the party candidate who wins their state. But I believe in the rule of law. Between the constitution and Federalist 68 – Alexander Hamilton’s treatise that sets out the purpose of the electoral college – it is clear that we have the duty to block anyone who is unfit for the presidency.
I stand to be fined up to $1,000 by the state of Washington. That’s a lot of money. But a thousand bucks versus a moral imperative – no contest.
Levi Guerra, 19, Washington state
When I signed up to be an elector in May it was at a time of great conflict within the Democratic party between Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters. But we all managed to come together around one promise: no Trump. That was the pledge I made when I joined the electoral college – that I would do everything I could to block Trump.
This is the first time I’ve been old enough to vote in a presidential election. I expect elected officials to keep their promises and I think it would be wrong not to hold myself to the same standard.
So I’m doing everything in my power to keep that pledge. That means casting my electoral college ballot not for Clinton, who won my state of Washington, but for a compromise Republican candidate who other Republican electors can rally around to stop Trump getting elected. This is not about the Democratic or Republican party; it is about unifying us all for the benefit of the country.
For the longest time, the electoral college has been a mysterious thing for so many Americans. Since our action started, many more people have started to think about the system and debate how it could be used to protect what we hold dear.
Vinz Koller, 53, California
I’ve been in DC this week and I went to look at the original Federalist Papers and in particular Federalist 68. There’s something about seeing the actual documents, realizing how prescient the founding fathers were. They certainly knew about the threat of foreign influence, about how foreign powers seek “to gain an improper ascendant in our councils”.
I leapt when I read that. It’s what we have right now: a candidate who during the campaign invited the Russians to spy on us and use cyberwarfare against our country. Donald Trump encouraged that to happen, and the evidence that we have suggests that’s precisely what Russia did. It strikes me as remarkable that documents that are more than 200 years old could have anticipated something like that happening.
The founding fathers also feared what they called “the little arts of popularity”. I take that to mean populism and demagoguery. They were afraid of a snake oil salesman running for the highest office – and frankly, that’s what we got.
Monday will be a test of what the electoral college was created for. If ever there’s a moment in which we should be exercising our power to act in the face of danger, it is this one.
Micheal Baca, 24, Colorado
People have called me a “faithless” elector. I want to push back on that: I’m a conscientious elector or faithful elector. I believe I’m being faithful to the constitution by being true to my conscience, rather than just being a rubber stamp.
I believe Donald Trump to be a demagogue and that the majority of Americans would have a different Republican in the White House. That’s not overturning the result of the election that the Republicans won, but it is standing up to a clear and present danger.
So I am putting my country above my party and coming together with Republican electors. The hope is that we can unite around a more responsible Republican to lead this country.
When Bret Chiafalo and I came together over social media to form the Hamilton electors, some time around 3am on 9 November, we knew this would be a long shot. But since then the odds have moved considerably in our favor.
We’ve sparked a national debate. People are starting to understand that electors are individuals, not just numbers on the map.
Whoever is inaugurated as president on 20 January, I will fully support them and respect the office they hold. Even if that person is Donald Trump. I want our country to be the greatest. But at least I’ll know that I did everything I could, through sheer will and a heck of a lot of help.