Understanding the Electoral College: 'A process not a place'
The Electoral College, that quadrennial exercise in civic theater, has undergone an extraordinary amount of pressure and petitioning in 2016.
North Carolina’s 15 electors said Sunday that they have received letters by the tub loads and thousands of emails and phone calls urging them not to vote for President-elect Donald Trump.
The pressure has been counterproductive, said the electors, who plan to cast their official votes for Trump on Monday.
“It is disappointing,” said Glenn Pinckney Sr., an elector from Catawba County. “It shows a lack of understanding and disrespect for democracy.”
Every leap year, on the the first Monday following the second Wednesday of December, 538 electors meet in the 50 state capitols and the District of Columbia and make the elections for president and vice president final and official.
Under the Constitution, voters in the popular election are not voting for the candidates. They cast their ballots for slates of electors committed to the candidate of their party. Each state has one elector for each member of the U.S. House and Senate. The District of Columbia has three electors, bringing the total to 538 electoral votes.
After the bitterly divided election in which Trump lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes, the 2016 Electoral College is far from perfunctory. Reports that Russian government hackers interfered in the election on Trump’s behalf have only increased attention.
Protests are being organized Monday in state capitals urging electors to reject Trump and vote for Hillary Clinton. The December 19 Coalition, which is organizing the demonstrations, said the protests will be peaceful, patriotic, nonviolent and family friendly.
Mark Delk, a Republican elector from Asheville, estimates he has received between three thousand and four thousand letters, enough to fill to two postal cartons. Delk said he’s tried to read every one. Virtually all were form letters, he said.
“These people were exercising their First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances,” he said. “I would say about four or five were well-written, well-thought out letters.”
Delk said he will personally respond to those but not the form letters.
Delk, Pinckney and the other electors met with the media Sunday evening at the North Carolina Museum of History. All adamantly proclaimed their enthusiasm about voting for Trump, holding up Trump stickers to show their unity.
One Republican elector in Texas, Christopher Suprun, has written that he does not believe Trump is fit for office and that he will not vote for him. Suprun cited Alexander Hamilton’s admonition that presidential candidates must be independent from foreign influence and not engage in demagoguery.
We serve as ministers of the will of the people of North Carolina. We are not circuit breakers, as they are in some states.
Mark Delk, Republican elector from Asheville
Such a defection won’t happen in North Carolina, even in the face of large or persuasive protests. State law ensures that North Carolina will deliver 15 electoral votes to Trump on Monday.
Under North Carolina law, all electors must vote for their party candidate or face immediate removal and a $500 fine. That law popped up after the 1968 Electoral College, when Rocky Mount eye doctor Lloyd Bailey refused to cast his vote for Richard Nixon.
Bailey, a member of the ultraconservative John Birch Society, said he deemed Nixon too liberal. He later testified before Congress that he cast his vote for independent candidate George Wallace “to save the country from democracy.” Bailey said he favored a republic in which elected officials, including electors, have the power to decide.
The following year, the General Assembly passed a law to prevent such “faithless electors,” as they are known. In addition to North Carolina, 28 other states mandate that electors vote for the candidate who won the state.
“We serve as ministers of the will of the people of North Carolina,” Delk said. “We are not circuit breakers, as they are in some states.”