The path to the White House is long, but for Donald Trump, it could turn out to be longer than for any president-elect in recent memory. Trump has been a polarizing figure ever since he launched his campaign. His often questionable declarations, combined with recent revelations about the role Russia may have played in the election, are enough to make some electoral college members hesitate to cast their votes for him when they convene on Dec. 19 — and that could jeopardize the majority Trump needs.
In fact, director and activist Michael Moore has predicted that Trump will fail to win the electoral college vote. However, while many liberals would love for Moore to be right, Trump still has a clear, legitimate path to the presidency even if that were to happen. Here's a rundown of how things could play out.
The Election So Far
Due to the unique nature of the United States' voting system, Trump technically won the election by obtaining 306 out of 538 electoral college members' votes, despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by at least 2.8 million individual votes.
The electoral college's 538 members stand for Congress's 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and the District of Columbia's three electors. However, these electors are not themselves voted in by the population; instead, they are usually nominated by each party at state conventions. During presidential elections, most states operate on a winner-takes-all basis rather than a proportional system. This explains situations like the current one, where a candidate can win the electoral college without winning a majority of individual votes.
Why Trump Could Lose the Electoral College
On Monday, Dec. 19, electoral college members in each state will officially cast their votes for the president of the United States. It is usually presumed that electors will vote for the candidate who won their state. But this year, there are several reasons this might not be the case.
One reason lies in Donald Trump's controversial actions and irresponsible demeanor, from his inflammatory, childish tweets to his refusal to receive daily intelligence briefs despite his lack of policy experience. Republican elector Christopher Suprun has very publicly declared that, even though Trump won his state of Texas, he will not be voting for the president-elect, as he believes the latter to be unfit for office.
Suprun claims he is not the only elector who will vote with his conscience. However, another 36 electors would need to follow his example in order for Trump to fall short of the 270 votes he needs to win the majority and be confirmed as president. While this is a daunting number, recent CIA revelations that Russia tampered with the election to aid Trump could well sway electors who are already questioning Trump's ability to run the country. On Monday, Suprun and nine Democrat electors issued a statement demanding to be briefed on Russia's interference to help them determine whether Trump is fit for office.
What Happens If Trump Does Not Obtain an Electoral College Majority
After the electoral college members cast their votes, the results will be certified by each state's secretary of state and sent to Washington no later than Dec. 28. Congress will meet on Jan. 6 to count the electoral votes.
If Trump, or any candidate, fails to clinch a majority, the 12th Amendment holds that the final decision will lie with the House of Representatives. Each state delegation would be asked to cast a vote for one of the three candidates with the most electoral votes. It is hard to say how long this process would take, as the House has only had to resort to it once, in 1824. In that instance, John Quincy Adams was officially confirmed as president on Feb. 9, 1825. If a president fails to be elected before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, the vice president-elect will act as interim president.
Given that the House is currently controlled by Republicans, the odds remain in Trump's favor, even if the electoral college rejects him. However, this setback would undoubtedly damage the perceived legitimacy of his presidency even further. Also, considering how this election has defied nearly everyone's expectations so far, it would be unwise to discount any possible outcome at this point; if electors can vote with their conscience, so can House state delegates.