America has one final chance to stop Donald Trump becoming president

Electoral College vote is tomorrow and experts think they know the answer

Jon Sharman
Sunday 18 December 2016 17:05
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Experts have weighed in on the next step for Mr Trump
Experts have weighed in on the next step for Mr Trump

Donald Trump will face his final hurdle before being inaugurated as President of the United States on Monday, when members of the Electoral College meet to cast their votes.

Mr Trump must gain 270 votes for the election result to be formally recognised, in what is normally considered a rubber-stamping process. However, the vote has on this occasion been marred for widespread calls for recounts in key states, calls for electors to disregard their states' voting rules and a bill aimed at threatening Mr Trump with future impeachment by introducing new conflict-of-interest rules.

A vocal movement has pressured Republican electors to abandon Trump even though he won 30 states, giving him the electoral voters needed to be president.

Most base their plea on the fact that Clinton won some 2.8 million more popular votes.

The Independent asked two experts – assistant professor Rebecca Thorpe, a political scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Dr Jacob Parakilas, assistant head of the US and Americas Programme at Chatham House – whether they thought there was really a chance Mr Trump may not succeed.

Is there anything or anyone that can derail Mr Trump's inauguration, besides the Electoral College?

Dr Parakilas: “For very good reason, there is no legal mechanism that the CIA, or any other American executive agency or government body, can [use to] challenge or invalidate the result of the election. The only thing right now that stands between Trump and being inaugurated is the Electoral College.”

Prof Thorpe: “Legally, no. All we right now is that someone hacked the DNC and released details to Wikileaks, and that the source comes from Russia.

“It is unclear whether the purpose of these hacks was to help elect Trump or simply to create chaos, and intelligence agencies have not released conclusive evidence confirming that the cyberattack was state-sponsored. There is also no evidence Russia tampered with actual voting machines or vote counts, and the Michigan recount did not reveal any evidence of voter fraud.

“Given the razor-thin margins in key crucial swing states, essentially anything could have tilted the balance.”

What about the threat of impeachment?

Dr Parakilas: “There's no chance that he would be immediately impeached. It just wouldn't happen, partly because the Republicans would need to find political cause to do so.

“He is their presidential candidate, it would look terrible. It would alienate a huge number of their voters.”

Prof Thorpe: “Given Trump’s numerous financial conflicts of interests, the potential for corruption and the likely violations of the Emoluments Clause, the legal possibility for impeachment is rife.

“However, with a GOP-controlled House and Senate, the possibility of impeachment is not a question of law but of political will. Trump is an unconventional Republican in many ways, but he has appointed a cabinet full [of] far-right conservatives with a conventional conservative agenda of tax cuts, reduced spending on health care and social services, and extensive deregulation.

“Thus far, he has also received support from congressional Republicans who have blocked legislation to investigate or curb Trump’s massive financial conflicts of interests.”

Do you think Mr Trump will win the Electoral College vote?

Prof Thorpe: “Given how many electors are pledged to Trump, what they’ve said publicly and the norm of abiding by the state plurality winner, it is incredibly unlikely that the electors will alter the expected result.

“If 37 Trump electors defect, this will deny Trump the 270 electors he needs to win. However, only one of the 306 electors pledged to Trump has said publicly that he will do so.

“Faithless electors are extremely rare and have never changed the election outcome in US history – however, 2016 is an extremely abnormal election.”

Dr Parakilas: “I wouldn't be surprised if you saw three or four Republican electors [choose] someone else. I would be shocked if he got less than 270.

“A lot of this is just a reaction to how outlandish the whole election season has been. I think there's also a sense that because Trump won with a significant gap between the Electoral College and the popular vote, that underscores calls for the Electoral College to do something different than it normally does.

“By and large, those calls are going to fall on deaf ears.”

Is the furore surrounding this election what you would typically expect after a vote?

Prof Thorpe: “The controversy and legal challenges surrounding the election are highly abnormal. However, these are likely symptoms of the same syndrome that led to Trump’s unprecedented rise to power.

“Trump is the only presidential candidate in US history to openly challenge the legitimacy of the electoral process [by] falsely claiming that he lost the popular vote because of ‘millions of people who voted illegally’.

“Trump rose to power by challenging President Obama’s status as an American citizen, and his presidential campaign featured the claim that his political rival is criminal who should be in jail.

“However, the ongoing legal challenges are unlikely to prevent a Trump presidency, and some in fact defy the same democratic norms that Trump's critics accuse him of dismissing.”

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