Today in America millions of people will go to the polls to vote on various local proposals and elect local officials. The vast majority believe that they will also be voting for one or other of the candidates for the presidency but in this they are wrong. American presidents are not elected by the people but by an Electoral College and it is the membership of this body that will be determined in today’s vote.
But surely, you might say, the Electoral College is a mere technicality, a mechanism for giving rubber-stamping the popular decision. After all, don’t the ballot papers list the candidates names?
Well yes the ballot papers will have the names of Clinton, Trump and the others but a vote for one of those has no legal significance in determining who will become president. They merely determine what candidates the Electors are required to pledge to support in the actual presidential election which will be held in December.
The pledges made by Electors may impose a moral duty but they are not legally binding as the American constitution allows them an almost totally free choice in who the vote for – the only limitations being the candidates age, place of birth and previous incumbency.
An elector pledged to Clinton is perfectly free to vote for Trump and vice versa. Indeed they’re not restricted to voting for the declared candidates at all. They could if they wished, vote for say, Ross Perot or Oprah Winfrey.
Now this might seem a tad esoteric. After all, apart from a handful of occasions when so-called ‘faithless electors’ failed to vote for the candidate they were pledged to the system has always operated pretty much as expected. That could well change on this occasion.
As I write the expectation is that Clinton will ‘win’ the election. That is to say she will secure at least 270 Electoral College pledges. However Trump has hinted that he might not accept such a result and the Electoral College gives him a legal mechanism to do something about it.
When all the fuss has died down tomorrow, Trump (or Clinton should she ‘lose’) is free to try to lobby Electors pledged to Clinton to change their vote. He can try to persuade them that the popular mood was mistaken and that he would still be a better president for the country and their state. He could even be successful in overturning the popular result if the margin is narrow.
While it would certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons were that to happen and it would likely lead to all manner of civil unrest, it would be entirely in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the US constitution.
And if it does happen like that, remember you read it here first.