The members of the Electoral College will meet on Monday to decide the 45th president of the United States and, for the second time in less than 20 years, they will do so amid a controversy over the results of November’s general election.
While President-elect Donald Trump picked up 306 electoral votes on Election Day – well over the 270 needed to clinch the election – Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular has risen to 2.8 million over Trump as the last remaining postal votes are counted.
This disparity – along with claims by so-called “faithless electors” that they won’t vote for Trump – has made an already confusing electoral process even more convoluted.
To help readers understand the process and what’s at stake, FoxNews.com has prepared a cheat sheet about the Electoral College.
The Electoral College
- Who are the members of the Electoral College: There are 538 electors – representing the nation's 435 Representatives, 100 Senators and three non-voting representatives from Washington D.C. Electors cannot be federal officials and are usually chosen by the winning candidate’s political party among the party faithful. All states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, have chosen electors on a "winner-take-all" basis since the 1880s, but there is no federal law requiring the electors to vote for the candidate who won their state.
- What does the Electoral College Process look like: The process begins after November’s general election, when state governors prepare a “Certificate of Ascertainment” that lists all of the presidential candidates, their respective electors, who won the state and which electors will represent the state at the meeting of the electors in December. At the meeting, the electors cast their votes for president and vice president on separate ballots, with the votes recorded on a Certificate of Vote. The state’s Certificates of Vote is then sent to Congress – as well as the National Archives –where votes are counted in a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
- Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College: The Electoral College was basically started as a compromise by the drafters of the Constitution as some wanted Congress to choose the president, while others wanted direct election by the people. The beneficiaries of the Electoral College in the nascent days of the United States were the southern slave states which were concerned that the country’s more populous industrial centers would dominate less populous rural regions.
- Where does the Electoral College meet: There is no Electoral College campus. There are no dorm rooms that house the electors or frat parties for them to go to on weekends. Instead electors meet in their respective state capitals to cast their votes for president and vice president.
- When does the Electoral College meet: Electors always meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. While the procedures vary slightly state by state, the basic process: reading of Certificate of Ascertainment, attendance, choosing a chairman, choosing tellers, voting, collecting and sorting the votes before placing them in special mahogany boxes to be sent to Congress.
The Faithless Elector
While the Electoral College vote is normally just a procedural step that gets overshadowed by the President-elect’s cabinet choices (the exception being 2000, with George W. Bush, Al Gore and the Florida recount), this year with Clinton winning the popular vote and the divisiveness of the election, there have been a number of electors who have said they might not cast their vote for the candidate who won their state.
Adding to the concerns of these faithless electors are assertions by the Obama administration that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized the hacking of Democratic officials' email accounts in the run-up to the presidential election to help Trump's campaign.
When news broke late last week of the CIA's conclusion that Russia likely sought to influence the U.S. election on behalf of Trump, Pell and nine other electors — all but one of them Democrats — quickly crafted and published an unprecedented letter to U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper demanding a briefing.
Their letter, now with dozens of signatures, described the Electoral College as a deliberative body whose members have more than an "empty or formalistic task" to summarily cast their votes.
Despite Harvard professor – and former Democratic presidential candidate - Larry Lessig's claims earlier this week that 20 Republican Electoral College voters are considering flipping to vote against Donald Trump, a survey of electors taken by The Associated Press appears to suggest that there’s very little likelihood of derailing Trump's presidency in the Electoral College.
Only 19 of the 44 times the Electoral College has met have there been any faithless electors – and most of those involved only one elector. The most faithless electors ever came in 1832 when 30 electors from Pennsylvania refused to support the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Martin Van Buren and two National Republican Party electors from the state of Maryland refused to vote for presidential candidate Henry Clay and instead abstained.
Despite the loss of 30 votes, Martin Van Buren was elected as the vice president and Andrew Jackson president after receiving over 75 percent of the electoral votes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.