On Monday 19 December, across America, the real votes will be cast that will make Donald J Trump the next president of the United States of America. That is the day that each state’s electors meet to reflect the view of the people in their state. In most US states, that means the winner takes all; in Michigan, where Trump won by only 10,700 votes, he takes all 16 electoral votes to the college.
It may sound confusing, complicated or boring, but it is actually very exciting – if your idea of super-exciting is a 226-year-old document. Talk dirty to me, Alexander Hamilton.
The President of the US is just that, the president of a bunch of states, not directly a president of the people. It is the voters representing those states, known as the electors, that make the person the president.
This year, for only the fifth time in history, the popular vote has been trumped by the electoral college because Donald won more of the smaller states. Even though Hillary Clinton has almost 3 million more votes in the national tally, it doesn’t matter.
The US is a generally successful marriage of independent states. As is often the case in a marriage, it is at its best when no one gets exactly what they want. Clearly, it is not the perfect system, but it isn’t an accident. The founders wanted the electoral college for a number of reasons. It was partly as a compromise between larger more populated states versus the smaller rural ones; back then, state identity was stronger, like it is in Europe now. In the EU, people are very clearly French first and then European. The founders also didn’t trust a direct popular vote. Partly because the founders were worried the people might be influenced by a foreign power.
There are 538 electors, awarded proportionally, meeting throughout the the US on 19 December. But they don't have to necessarily follow the way their state voted. They can, if they choose, vote with their conscience. They could decide to vote for anyone.
If they do go their own way, they are known as faithless electors. But if enough of them decide to dump Trump it could cost him the presidency.
Trump currently stands at 302 pledged votes. He can afford to lose only 36 and still be elected President. They could decide that, between Trump’s business conflicts, his failure to win the popular vote and the continuing revelations of potential interference in the popular-vote result from Moscow, they want to tell him he’s fired before he's even hired. Trump’s keeping a close eye on the vote to make sure no electors try to defect.
If Trump doesn't get the votes, the final decision gets tossed to the House of Representatives – which right now is controlled by Trump’s party. But the Representatives are old-school Republicans who would probably much rather have a more traditional president.
At that point who knows what could happen? It could be anyone. Just in case, probably best to stay by the phone.
If the electors are looking for guidance, they can always remember the words of the President-elect himself: “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” If Trump does win, we might just get the disaster he warned us about.