May 19, 2024

Electoral possibilities may trump probabilities




Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Electoral possibilities may trump probabilities

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – On December 19th the 538 presidential electors will remain in their home states where 306 of them will cast their votes, most likely for Donald Trump – but not necessarily. There are even some laws mandating that they vote for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote, but such requirements are no more constitutional than if they applied to senators and representatives. So-called faithless electors are free to vote as they wish. So, here are a few unlikely, but alternate, scenarios that could peel 37 votes away from Trump and throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state is allotted just one vote for this purpose:

  1. The House must choose the president from the top three electoral vote winners when no candidate wins the required 270-vote majority, and there is already a move afoot to persuade electors from Trump states to coalesce around another candidate. It is safe to say their candidate will not be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee they all oppose. Texas elector Christopher Suprun has announced he will defy his state’s choice of Trump and vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has rejected the idea. If he can persuade 36 other Trump electors to do likewise, the Republican-dominated House will decide and presumably opt for the more mainstream candidate.
  2. Two Colorado Clinton electors, Polly Baca and Robert Nemanich, have sued in Federal court to overturn their state’s faithless elector law so they can join with fellow faithless Democrats and Republicans to elect a moderate Republican. In fact, they need not have filed the suit. They could simply vote as they wish and let the State of Colorado try to enforce its unconstitutional law after the fact. In any event, their plan cannot work unless 37 Republican electors join them
  3. Focusing on those 37 Trump electors conjures up another strange, but viable, solution. Neither the Republican nor Democratic electors are unified, but for these purposes only the disunity of the former matters. Among the Republican electors are firm Trump supporters, but also those who think he is too liberal, too conservative, too unqualified, or too extreme. This “Scenario of Toos” would witness the opposite of coalescing. The 37 “Toos” would vote as they please, with the result that perhaps 10 more candidates are suddenly and unexpectedly brought into the mix. Let us say that seven of these additional candidates receive three electoral votes each, two of them receive four votes, and another garners eight votes. The eight-vote candidate would come in third in the electoral vote-count and would then be presented along with Trump and Clinton to the House of Representatives. Let us further say that this third-place candidate is someone such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Odds are he would win in the House vote.
  4. In a variation on Scenario 3, faithless Democratic electors would join with the 37 faithless Republican electors to alter the third-place contest. In this way one of those new Republican candidates with three electoral votes could receive six or seven Democratic electors’ votes and become the third candidate presented to the House.

Is any of this possible? Yes. Probable? No. But in this most unusual year in America’s political history, possible has repeatedly trumped probable.

          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at: or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

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