What happens when the Electoral College meets Monday?

  • Debbie Lord
  • Cox Media Group National Content Desk
7:41 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19, 2016 National/World News
In this image from video, Electoral College elector Brian Fairbrother looks through mail he has received in Shelby Township, Mich., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. And you thought Election Day was in November. Electors are gathering in every state Monday to formally elect Donald Trump president even as anti-Trump forces try one last time to deny him the White House. Republican electors say they have been deluged with emails, phone calls and letters urging them not to support Trump. Many of the emails are part of coordinated campaigns.(AP Photo/Mike Householder)

On Monday, 538 electors will choose the president of the United States.

While casting the electoral votes is usually a formality that seals the results of the General Election, this year’s vote includes a dose of drama.

Donald Trump is expected to win the Electoral College vote, something he wasn’t expected to do back on Nov. 8. Since that day, however, those who do not support Trump have placed their hope on the slim chance they could kill his presidency before it even begins by convincing those who vote in the Electoral College not vote for him.

Add to that the recent revelation that some intelligence sources believe the Russians played a part in disrupting the election, and you’ve got the continuing drama that is the 2016 presidential election.

Here’s a look at what will happen today as the next president is selected.

Those who vote in the Electoral College do not meet in one place to cast ballots, instead, they meet in their state capitals to vote.

The meeting times vary. The Constitution spells out what electors must do to choose a president, but it does not set the time of day when they must meet to do it. Each state decides that. Here’s a link to when each state will vote.  

The electors were chosen by their state political parties to vote for the candidate who wins the election in each state. For instance, Donald Trump won the state of Florida, so Florida’s Republican Electoral College electors will travel to Tallahassee to cast their votes – presumably for Trump. Likewise, Hillary Clinton won the state of California, so California’s Democratic electors will travel to Sacramento to vote for Clinton.

That seems to be the question of the day. Those against a Trump presidency have tried to persuade Trump Electoral College voters to flip their vote and either vote for Hillary Clinton or another Republican candidate.

Republican electors say they have been called, emailed and sent form letters urging, and in at least one case, threatening them not to vote for Trump.

Electors are not bound by federal law to vote for a specific candidate – for instance the one who won the popular vote in their state. However, in 29 states and the District of Columbia, electors are bound by state law or by a pledge they sign to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote of the state they represent. Here are those states:

Alabama 

Alaska  

California  

Colorado  

Connecticut

Delaware

District of Columbia

Florida

Hawaii

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Mississippi

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Mexico

North Carolina

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

South Carolina

Tennessee

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

Wisconsin

Wyoming 

They can be charged with a misdemeanor. They could serve up to one year in jail and be fined up to $1,000 in most states. No one has been prosecuted for not voting for the person who won the popular vote.

Not voting for the candidate you are pledged to vote for has happened many times in Electoral College votes, but it has never affected the final results of a presidential election.

A faithless elector is a member of the Electoral College who does not vote for the person he or she is pledged to vote for.

At least one Republican elector says he will not vote for Trump, despite the fact Trump won the popular vote in his state. It is unlikely he will have many people join him in making the decision not to vote for whom they are pledged to vote for. As an article in the federal archives explains: “Electors generally hold a leadership position in their party or were chosen to recognize years of loyal service to the party. Throughout our history as a nation, more than 99 percent of electors have voted as pledged.”

There have been 157 faithless electors in the more than 200-year history of the country. Seventy-one of those voters changed their vote because their candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College voted.

Clinton is ahead in the popular vote, but that is not the way we elect presidents in the United States. Instead, U.S. citizens vote for electors who then vote for candidates during Electoral College voting. The number of electors a state has matches the number of representatives a state has in the U.S. Congress.  

There are 538 electors, and a person needs a majority of 270 electoral votes to become president. Trump receive 306 electoral votes. Clinton won 232 electoral votes

Should no candidate get a majority of electoral votes (270), the election shifts to the House of Representatives. In the House chamber, each state would cast one vote for one of the top three vote contenders. Whoever wins a majority of states wins the election. To pick a vice president, the same process happens, only it would take place in the Senate.

Trump would have to lose 37 electors to have the House determine the outcome of the election. There is a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Electors meet in their respective states and cast and count their votes for the offices of president and vice president. They do this on separate ballots. That vote is recorded on a “Certificate of Vote,” and it, along with the “Certificate of Ascertainment” (the list of candidates who appeared on the ballot on Nov. 8 along with the names of the electors assigned to each candidate) is sent to the Congress and the National Archives as part of the official record of the 2016 election.

They meet on Jan. 6 at 1 p.m. in a joint session of Congress to count the votes submitted. The vice president, Joe Biden, will preside over the vote count as each state is called alphabetically and that state’s Certificate of Vote is announced and recorded. When they are finished, Biden will announce the results and the winner. 

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