The election of Donald Trump as president is a bitter pill to swallow for millions of Americans — and some are backing a quixotic campaign to reverse that outcome.
As of Friday afternoon, more than 2.4 million people had signed a petition to the U.S. Electoral College, urging its members to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Mr. Trump is unfit to serve. His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience make him a danger to the Republic,” wrote Elijah Berg, who launched the petition on Change.org.
Berg, of North Carolina, argued that the Electoral College can award the White House to either candidate and should use its own “most undemocratic” institution to ensure a “democratic result.”
Berg continued: “24 states bind electors. If electors vote against their party, they usually pay a fine. And people get mad. But they can vote however they want and there is no legal means to stop them in most states.”
Another petition on Faithlessnow.com similarly calls for more than 160 Republican electors to set aside their votes in states that don’t have laws binding them to do so: Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. The petition has assembled a list of the relevant electors.
Clinton is the first presidential candidate since 2000 to win the popular vote while losing the White House. In that year, Al Gore lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush. While Americans were still waiting to see whether Gore or Bush had won Florida’s 25 electoral votes, Clinton, the first lady at the time, called for the college to be disbanded so that no one would ever have to doubt again whether his or her vote counted.
“We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago,” she said then. “I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”
And in a deep twist of irony, Trump has also called for the Electoral College to be abandoned. On the eve of the 2012 election, between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Trump called the Electoral College “a disaster for a democracy.”
After that election, in a tweet he has since deleted, Trump said, “The phoney [sic] electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one! [sic]” Trump tweeted this at a time when he thought Romney would win the popular vote, which ultimately was not the case.
The last time Gallup checked to see whether Americans would vote for a law to abolish the Electoral College was in 2013 — and 63 percent said they would.
So what is the Electoral College, exactly? American citizens did not in fact elect a president on Nov. 8; they chose electors. On Dec. 19, the 538 electors of the Electoral College will cast their ballots for a candidate and ultimately decide the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The authors of the Constitution established this system for two reasons.
First, the founding fathers intended the Electoral College to serve as a buffer between the electorate and the presidency. They feared that a tyrant or someone incompetent would be able to manipulate the population and that better-informed, judicious electors could prevent this from happening. In other words, the Electoral College is supposed to act as a check on the citizenry, should it be hoodwinked by a demagogue.
Founding father Alexander Hamilton articulated this view in the Federalist Papers: “A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.”
The Electoral College was also created as a result of compromises with smaller states, to ensure that they would not be overlooked. Each state has the same number of electoral votes as it has congressional representatives. Voters in smaller states thus have more influence than those in larger states, because every state, no matter how small, has two U.S. senators.
But some historians point to slavery as another driving factor in the formation of the Electoral College. Southerners were worried that direct democracy — one person, one vote (in actuality, one white, male landowner, one vote) — would give Northern states greater sway in political affairs. But if the South had been allowed to include its slave population in determining the numbers of representatives and electors, it would have greater political power. This resulted in the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise, in which slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person.
The writer Joyce Carol Oates and others have argued that this system will always benefit rural, more conservative voices at the expense of urban, more liberal ones.
The Change.org petition is part of a growing trend of petitions prompted by Trump’s election. Many are directed explicitly at the president-elect and urge him to rethink his policy positions or behavior on the campaign trail. A voter in Virginia is calling for Trump to meet with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to learn about the reality of climate change. A Californian mother of two children with chronic illnesses is urging Trump to protect the commitment enshrined in the Obamacare legislation that forbids discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Another woman in California is asking for Trump to condemn hate crimes that his supporters commit in his name.
But these petitions for Trump to re-examine specific policies or actions have not yet resonated with the public as strongly as the petition to the Electoral College calling upon its members to stop Trump from entering the Oval Office. Many supporters have been promoting the Change.org petition on social media.