Backgrounder: The Uncertainty of the Electoral College
by John Pickerill
For some, the good news from the election was that Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected as President. For others, the bad news was that Donald Trump was elected President. The reality, however, is that not one vote has yet been cast for President of the United States. When you were voting you might have missed the fine print that read, “. . . a ballot cast for the named candidates for President and Vice President of the United States is considered a ballot cast for the slate of Presidential Electors nominated by that political party . . .”
So if you marked your ballot for Donald Trump you were actually casting a vote for the Indiana Republican Party’s slate of eleven Presidential Electors: Stephanie Beckley, Daniel Bortner, Laura Campbell, Jeff Cardwell, Donald L. Hayes, Randall Kirkpatrick, Ethan E. Manning, Kelly Mitchell, Edwin J. Simcox, Kevin Steen, and Chuck Williams.
If you marked your ballot for Hillary Clinton you were actually casting a vote for the Indiana Democratic Party’s slate: Herbert W. Brown, Nancy Dembowski, Henry L. Fernandez, Jeffrey S. Fites, Vera Mileusnic, Daniel Parker, Randy Schmidt, Sherrianne Standley, Julie Voorhies, Dustin T. White, and Patricia Yount.
And if you marked Gary Johnson you were casting a vote for the Indiana Libertarian Party’s slate: Rodney Clay Benker, Russell P. Brooksbank, Donna T. Dunn, Joseph A. Hauptmann, Lindsay Horn, Brad Klopfenstein, Jeremiah Nichols Morrell, Gregory W. Noland, Robert L. Place, Frank A. Rossa, and Franklyn Voorhies.
So it wasn’t Trump who was elected on Nov. 8. It was Beckley, Bortner, Campbell, Cardwell, Hayes, Kirkpatrick, Manning, Mitchell, Simcox, Steen, and Williams who were elected. We actually have to wait until December 19 for the real presidential election.
That’s when federal law 3-USC-7 requires the Presidential Electors in each of the 50 states to gather in their respective capitols to cast the actual votes for President. We should keep in mind that there is no Constitutional provision or federal law that requires Presidential Electors to vote according to the popular vote in his/her state. So on Dec. 19, each of Indiana’s 11 Electors is free to vote for the presidential candidate he or she thinks is best, whether it be Gary Johnson, Darrell Castle, Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or someone else.
It’s no secret more than a few people in Republican Party leadership aren’t exactly in love with Trump. Those same people had a lot of influence over who were nominated as Presidential Electors at the 50 state conventions. If Electors realized their Party bosses aren’t going to retaliate for being a “disloyal” Elector they might have the courage to actually vote their conscience on Dec 19. It would only take a small number of Electors to deny Trump the 270 vote majority he needs.
Federal law 3-USC-15 requires Congress to unseal and count the electoral votes on Jan. 6. If no candidate gets at least 270 votes then the House of Representatives immediately votes to choose the President and the Senate votes to choose the Vice President, as required by Article II Section 1 of the Constitution, and in doing so each state only gets one vote.
Rural states like Indiana would suddenly be on equal footing with metropolitan-dominated states like California. That guarantees Hillary Clinton won’t be picked. And if enough Republican Congressmen are turned off by Trump (with Speaker Paul Ryan leading that faction) there’s a good possibility they wouldn’t pick Trump either.
This has been one of the most interesting election seasons in U.S. history. Could it get even more interesting? We won’t know for sure until Jan 6.
John Pickerill, former chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. A graduate of Purdue University and the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program, Pickerill retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Commander.