PROTESTS, PETITIONS & RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE AS ELECTORAL VOTE APPROACHES

A mural depicting Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Image courtesy of Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty.

The rollicking roller coaster ride of election 2016 just won’t stop. The first half of December has seen the underwhelming results of Jill’s Stein’s recount efforts in three states (Michigan’s was not completed, Pennsylvania’s never started, and Trump still came out on top in Wisconsin with an additional 131 votes), various controversial cabinet picks, and a CIA announcement that Russia did indeed use cyber hacking to try to sway the election towards Trump. Amidst all of this, activists are circulating online petitions and planning nationwide protests with the goal of swaying the Electoral College to vote against Trump.

In November, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by around 2 million (the final tally put her at 65,759,248, in comparison to Trump’s 62,915,886) but Trump won 306 electoral votes to the former Secretary of State’s 232. The United States uses an electoral voting system to decide the presidency and in every state, aside from Maine and Nebraska, it’s a a winner-takes-all system, so whichever party has the popular vote lead in a state gets all of the official electoral votes. Hillary Clinton captured the majority of votes in concentrated metropolitan areas but Trump supporters were more evenly spread in small towns and rural areas throughout the country so he ended up with more states, more electoral college votes.

Based on his electoral victory, Trump is now the president-elect however, the Electoral College doesn’t officially vote until December 19th. Electoral voters are supposed to cast their ballots to reflect the popular vote but rebel electors who cast a ballot opposite of the popular vote are known to exist. They usually don’t affect the election’s final outcome and not many instances of these “faithless electors” have been recorded in modern day politics, but that may be about to change. On the 19th, If 37 electors vote for someone other than Trump neither he nor Hillary will have a majority outcome. Since the outcome of the election, eight Democratic electoral voters including Polly Baca and Levi Guerra and one Republican electoral voter, Christopher Suprun, have announced that they will cast their vote against Trump. It is rumored that 20 Republican electors are also considering this, although the Republican National Committee disputes this claim.

Petitions and protests are attempting to urge additional electoral voters to do the same. In most states the practice of casting a rebel electoral ballot warrants just a small fine. In California, Washington, and Colorado there are laws that bind the delegates to vote for their party’s nominee but lawsuits have recently been filed to challenge the legislation. Being a “faithless elector” was once viewed as a shameful act but the current petitions circulating are out to flip this notion (and the entire voting system) on its head. A petition on Change.org asks “Why not use the most undemocratic of our institutions to ensure a democratic result?” and urges “Conscientious Electors” to support Hillary Clinton regardless of their state’s official election outcome. The petition, which has garnered close to 5 million signatures states that Trump is unfit to be commander-in-chief due to “his scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience.”

Echoing the sentiments of the petition is the December 19 Coalition which includes the groups Americans Take Action, the Electoral College Petition, Progressive Campaign Committee, and Democracy Spring. The coalition is planning nationwide protests in each state capitol on December 19th, in an effort to “call on the Electors of the Electoral College to listen to the voice of the people and refuse to cast their ballots for Donald Trump.” See here for more information about the protests.

The C.I.A.’s official reports concerning Russia have made things even more interesting. Last week the agency confirmed something that was already widely speculated – that Russia was behind the the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers and the server of John D. Podesta, Clinton’s top campaign manager. The cyber attack resulted in the release of formerly confidential emails and internal documents that led to the resignation of DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman and much of her staff. It also exposed information about Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street Banks. New evidence has also revealed that Russia was behind the cyber interference of the campaigns of several Democratic House candidates. Many believe that the embarrassing DNC leak was a key factor in Clinton’s failure to capture the presidency.

Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin, image courtesy of Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty.

To add fuel to the claims that Russia favored Trump, the CIA has also stated that it believes that Russia also hacked into the Republican National Committee but did not leak any documents in order to sway the election towards the real estate magnate. The president-elect has dismissed these claims. His vehement denial of Russian interference (in interviews and of cource, Twitter) and his latest cabinet pick for Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil CEO and friend of Vladimir Putin, Rex Tillerson has ignited the belief that he has too close of a relationship with the Russian president. While Republicans seemed to have banded behind Trump in the final moments of his campaign, both Democrats and Republicans, including Senator John McCain, Senator and majority leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker, Paul Ryan have voiced their support for a continuing investigation into the matter. Their opinions signal a new rift between the Republican establishment and Trump.

Aside from releasing classified Democratic documents, Russia is also suspected of being a massive figure in the fake news movement which we now know to be a major factor in the outcome of the election. Citing a study by four sets of news researchers, The Washington Post suggests that the Russian government used “thousands of botnets, teams of paid human ‘trolls,’ and networks of websites and social-media accounts” that “echoed and amplified” to spread spread of inflammatory and inaccurate anti-Clinton news stories.

The recent evidence concerning Russia may have an impact on the Electoral College. While it is unlikely that enough electoral voters will cast their ballots against Trump to change the election’s outcome, there is a slight chance that more will decide to change there vote after receiving further information about the Russia interference. On Monday, John Podesta issued a statement that he was in support of a recent request by ten electoral college voters to receive a briefing on evidence that supports the accusations of Russian activity regarding the election. Even if Trump still becomes president, there are now significant cracks in the voting system. Last month, retiring Senator, Barbara Boxer, filed legislation to abolish the Electoral College once and for all.

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