On Monday, the electoral college met to finalize what we already knew was a reality on the night of November 8, 2016: Donald Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States.
Across the country, electors met to do their largely ceremonial job. Though the outcome was inevitable, Americans still watched the proceedings closely, hoping that electors might decide to buck the results of the vote in their states and select a different person for president of the United States, or refuse to give anyone 270 votes, thus forcing Congress to take up the matter.
Neither of those things happened, but some sparks did fly — mostly surrounding so-called “faithless electors.” And the people who defected and turned on their appointed candidates might surprise you: While some Americans hoped that Republican electors would refuse to validate Donald Trump, it was Secretary Hillary Clinton who watched electors turn their backs on her.
In Washington, three electors who were pledged to vote for Secretary Clinton instead opted to vote for Colin Powell, reflecting the hopes of some Americans that a block of electors could introduce a moderate Republican into the mix. Had the vote split, creating a situation where no one received enough votes to win, Congress would have chosen from among the top three vote getters — in a Trump/Clinton/Powell split, legislators, some hoped, would go for Powell.
Another voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American activist who has fought oil development on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines.
The four electors also refused to endorse Senator Tim Kaine for the vice presidency, voting instead for Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Susan Collins, and Winona LaDuke.
In Texas, one Trump elector supported Representative Ron Paul instead, while another endorsed Governor John Kasich.
One of Hawaii’s four electors, meanwhile, successfully cast a ballot for Bernie Sanders.
But those were just the ballots successfully cast and accepted. Several other Clinton electors had a go at voting for alternate candidates, only to be rebuffed. One man in Maine tried to support Senator Bernie Sanders, and his ballot was rejected, forcing him to recast his vote. A Minnesota elector tried to do the same. In Colorado, another elector tried to vote for Kasich, but the ballot was also rejected. Several other electors who had declared their intent to defect were disqualified and replaced before the vote even began.
If this sounds like a lot of people protesting the election results, you should have been around in the 1800s, when electors repeatedly refused to support the candidates they were pledged to. In fairness, the 63 electors who didn’t vote for Horace Greely in 1872 had a pretty good excuse — the man was dead, and they didn’t want to support a deceased candidate, given the limited likelihood of his taking office in his posthumous state.
In 1832 and again in 1836, political sniping put the lists of faithless electors into the double digits.
And as recently as 2004, a faithless elector spoiled a ballot — but the Minnesota voter likely made a mistake, writing “John Ewards” on the ballot meant for John Kerry and John Edwards.
Once president-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated on January 20, efforts to abolish or reform the electoral college are likely to increase, as many — including the president-elect, once — feel the institution is outdated and unfair. Should those efforts succeed, a direct popular vote could be in America’s future.
Notably, while the president-elect received 304 electoral college votes, handily rising above the 270 threshold for victory, he only received about 63 million popular votes to Secretary Clinton’s nearly 66 million.