Washington, United States | AFP |
America’s Electoral College was poised Monday to make Donald Trump’s victory official, despite a last-ditch campaign by Democrats hoping against the odds its members could revolt and keep the Republican billionaire out of the White House.
Normally, this step in a US presidential election is a rubber stamp formality that tends to go unnoticed. Not this time.
The country is bitterly divided following Trump’s shock win over Hillary Clinton, with the Democrat finishing nearly three million votes ahead in the popular tally.
Plus, there’s uproar over allegations of Russian hacking of Democrats during the campaign to sway the vote in favor of Trump.
When US voters cast their ballots on November 8, they did not directly elect the next president but rather 538 electors charged with translating their wishes into reality.
Trump won a clear majority of those electors: 306. At least 270 are needed for election.
Electors — most of them party members without name recognition — gathered Monday in each state plus the District of Columbia that houses the capital Washington to officially designate the next president and vice president.
In most states, electors must vote for whichever candidate won the popular tally in their state.
With results in from over half of the states Monday afternoon, there were no reports of Republican electors breaking ranks.
A CNN running tally counted 241 votes so far for Trump, as he neared the required threshold.
To prevent Trump from becoming president, Democratic activists needed to convince at least 37 Republican electors to abandon their candidate.
Protesters rallied Monday at statehouses from Pennsylvania to Texas to Utah.
In Wisconsin, where Trump carried a thin margin that was key to propelling him into the Oval Office, a few protesters chanted “Shame!” as the state’s 10 electoral votes for Trump were announced at the statehouse, the New York Times reported.
“I feel the fate of our nation is at stake here,” protester Ray-Ellen Kavey, 68, told The Washington Post outside the capitol building of the Rust Belt state of Pennsylvania.
“I think the Constitution charges the electors with preventing exactly what is happening here — a hostile takeover of our government by a bigot who has been supported by Russia. I know nothing will come of this, but my conscience won’t let me do any less.”
In New York, former president Bill Clinton cast one of the state’s 29 electoral votes for his wife.
“I’ve never cast a vote I was prouder of,” he was quoted as saying by the Post.
In Maine, elector David Bright said he was casting his vote for Bernie Sanders, the populist Vermont senator who garnered widespread support among young voters in the Democratic primary but was defeated by Hillary Clinton.
“I cast my Electoral College vote for Bernie Sanders today to let those new voters who were inspired by him know that some of us did hear them, did listen to them, do respect them and understand their disappointment,” Bright said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
One Texas Republican elector, Christopher Suprun, has publicly said that he will not vote for Trump, arguing he is unqualified to be president for various reasons including conflicts of interest created by his vast overseas business holdings.
Suprun, who called Trump a “demagogue,” told MSNBC that he had reached out to other electors to try to persuade them to join him.
An online petition urging electors to reject Trump collected some five million supporters. Hollywood stars including Martin Sheen recently released a video to goad electors to dump Trump.
– Divided Democrats –
Russia’s alleged cyber hack that many Democrats believe gravely wounded Clinton has added an extra layer of drama to the Electoral College vote.
Ten electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — wrote an open letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper seeking an intelligence briefing on the matter ahead of their vote.
The answer was no, said Democratic elector Clay Pell of Rhode Island, one of those who signed the letter.
So, the Rhode Island electors on Monday will appeal to Congress for a probe of the hack “to make sure that the American people have the full information about this unprecedented foreign intervention into our election.”
Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Preibus told “Fox News Sunday” that the pressure on the Electoral College not to elect Trump is “about Democrats that can’t accept the outcome of the election. It’s about delegitimizing the American system.”
Trump also weighed in via Twitter.
“If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned & called terrible names!” he wrote.
Even in the unlikely event that Trump loses the Electoral College vote, it would be up to the House of Representatives — controlled by Republicans — to designate the successor to President Barack Obama.
The final vote result will be announced in the US Congress on January 6, two weeks before the next president is to be inaugurated.