The electoral voters speak, and they’re not out for a revolt
WASHINGTON — Republican electors have been hounded to abandon Donald Trump, but they appear to be in no mood for an insurrection in the presidential campaign’s last voting ritual. This most untraditional of elections is on course to produce a traditional outcome Monday — an Electoral College ticket to the White House for the president-elect.
Whether they like Trump or not, and some surely don’t, scores of the Republicans chosen to cast votes in the state-capital meetings told AP they feel bound by history, duty, party loyalty or the law to rubber-stamp their state’s results and make him president. Appeals numbering in the tens of thousands — drowning inboxes, ringing cell phones, stuffing home and office mailboxes with actual handwritten letters — have not swayed them.
The Associated Press tried to reach all 538 electors and interviewed more than 330 of them, finding widespread Democratic aggravation with the electoral process but little expectation that the hustle of anti-Trump maneuvering can derail him. For that to happen, Republican-appointed electors would have to stage an unprecedented defection and Democrats would need to buck tradition, too, by peeling away from Hillary Clinton and swinging behind a consensus candidate in sufficient numbers.
Still, people going to the typically ho-hum electoral gatherings have been drawn into the rough and tumble of campaign-season politics. Republicans are being beseeched to revolt in a torrent of lobbying, centered on the argument that Clinton won the popular vote and Trump is unsuited to the presidency. Most of it is falling on deaf ears, but it has also led to some acquaintances being made across the great political divide.
“Let me give you the total as of right now: 48,324 emails about my role as an elector,” said Brian Westrate, a small-business owner and GOP district chairman in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. “I have a Twitter debate with a former porn star from California asking me to change my vote. It’s been fascinating.”
Similarly deluged, Republican elector Hector Maldonado, a Missouri National Guardsman, has taken the time to console one correspondent, a single mother and Air Force veteran who is beside herself with worry about what a Trump presidency will mean.
“Everything’s going to be OK,” he said he told her. “I know you’re scared, but don’t worry. Everything’s going to be OK. And I know that it will be.”
Maldonado, a Mexican immigrant and medical-equipment seller in Sullivan, backed Ted Cruz in the primaries but will cast his vote for Trump with conviction. “I took an oath once to become a U.S. citizen,” he said, “and on Aug. 14, 1995, that was the first oath that I’ve taken to support the U.S. Constitution. A year later I took the oath again, to support the duties of being an officer in the U.S. Army. This was the third oath that I’ve taken to execute what I promised to do.”
Even a leader of the anti-Trump effort, Bret Chiafalo of Everett, Washington, calls it a “losing bet” — but one he says the republic’s founders would want him to make. “I believe that Donald Trump is a unique danger to our country and the Founding Fathers put the Electoral College in place to, among other things, stop that from happening,” said Chiafalo, 38, an Xbox network engineer who backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.
It takes 270 electoral votes to make a president. Despite losing the national popular vote, Trump won enough states to total 306 electoral votes. He would need to see three dozen fall away for him to lose his majority. Only one Republican elector told AP he won’t vote for Trump.
Over the sweep of history, so-called faithless electors — those who vote for someone other than their state’s popular-vote winner — have been exceptionally rare.
Nashville attorney Tom Lawless, who chose Marco Rubio in the primaries, described his vow to cast his electoral vote for Trump in blunt terms. “Hell will freeze and we will be skating on the lava before I change,” he said. “He won the state and I’ve pledged and gave my word that that’s what I would do. And I won’t break it.”
Nor will Jim Skaggs, 78, a developer from Bowling Green, Kentucky, despite deep concern about Trump. “His personality worries me,” Skaggs said. “He is not open-minded.” Skaggs knew Trump’s father through the construction business, met the son in his 20s, and “I wasn’t impressed.”
“I hope he is far better than I think he is,” Skaggs said. Even so, “I fully intend to vote for Donald Trump,” he said. “I think it’s a duty.”
State law and practices vary for electors, but even in states where electors don’t take an oath to vote a certain way or don’t face legal ramifications for stepping out of line, the heavy expectation is for them to ratify the results. As much as they don’t want Trump in office, some Democrats are as reluctant as Republicans to go rogue.
“We lost the election,” said John Padilla of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a Democratic ward chairman. “That’s how elections are and you shake hands with your opponent and you get on with what you have to do and support your candidate.”
Yet Democratic electors, stung by losing an election to a Republican who trails Clinton by more than 2.6 million votes nationwide, spoke strongly in the interviews in favor of overhauling or throwing out the electoral system. Republican electors generally supported it, reasoning that it provides a counterweight to political dominance by coastal states with huge (and largely Democratic) populations, like California and New York.
Chiafalo is a co-founder of the Hamilton Electors, a group formed to steer other electors from both parties to a third candidate. “We’ve stated from Day 1 this is a long shot, this is a Hail Mary,” he said.
But if the effort fails, it won’t be from lack of trying. Most of the pleas to reject Trump are coordinated, automated, professionally generated and, for those reasons, none too persuasive.
“We got a stack of letters from idiots,” said Republican elector Edward Robson, 86, a Phoenix, Arizona, homebuilder.
Fellow elector Carole Joyce, 72, a state committeewoman in Phoenix and retired public health nurse, was more charitable.
“They’ve caused me great distress on my computer, that’s for sure,” she said. “I average anywhere from a thousand to 3,000 emails a day. And I’m getting inundated in my regular mailbox out front — anywhere from 17 to 35 letters a day coming from Washington state, Oregon, all around the country. Hand-written, some of them five or six pages long, quoting me the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, asking me again out of desperation not to vote for Donald Trump.
“And that’s their right,” she said. “I’ve had nothing threatening, I’m happy to say. The election is over, they need to move on.”
La Corte reported from Olympia, Washington. Associated Press writers who contributed: Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri; Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tennessee; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bob Christie in Phoenix, Arizona; and Michael Biesecker, Emily Swanson and Monika Mathur in Washington.