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Here’s why an electoral college revolt is unlikely today

Protests are planned for state capitals, but they are unlikely to persuade the electoral college to dump Trump.

Donald Trump is expected to move a consequential step closer to his inauguration as president Monday when the members of the electoral college hold 51 separate meetings nationwide to cast the ballots that will formally determine the winner of the November election.

In keeping with the chaotic campaign, the run-up to the electors’ balloting has been filled with protests and disputes over the constitutionally mandated gatherings.

Millions of Americans have signed petitions, deluged electors with letters and emails and indulged in elaborate hypotheticals about how those votes might be swayed. The passion behind those efforts has been intensified by post-election drama over U.S. intelligence that indicates Russia attempted to assist Trump before the election by stealing and distributing private emails from Democratic institutions and activists.

Going into the Monday meetings in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Trump held a comfortable lead of 306 votes to 232 for Hillary Clinton, based on the popular vote tallied on and after Nov. 8.

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And by all indications, despite the unusual level of scrutiny, those votes largely will be cast according to expectations.

The 538 electoral votes are allocated by state. In nearly all states, the candidate who wins a majority of the popular vote in the state wins all of its electoral votes.

Trump’s margin means 37 electors would have to turn from him to Clinton or some other candidate to deny him the majority, but unless another candidate spontaneously emerged to win a majority of electors’ votes, defections would serve only to send the election to the Republican-controlled House, which would presumably side with the party’s nominee.

More electors would have to flip their votes in order to give the White House to the Democratic nominee. Any significant number of defections is highly unlikely, since most electors are party loyalists.

Rump efforts to deny Trump the presidency by turning his electors against him appear not to have gained much ground. To date, only one Republican elector, in Texas, has said publicly that he would not vote for Trump. A separate Democratic attempt to turn Clinton balloters away from her so they could join with Republicans to back a new candidate has similarly gotten little traction, not least because no alternative candidate has stepped forward.

A group of electors led by Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and like her mother a San Francisco Democrat, has sought a meeting with intelligence officials to discuss their views on the election hacking.

The office of the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, released a statement Friday that said agencies continued to believe that hacking was meant to interfere with the election and that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” But it declined to release more information pending the conclusion of an investigation that President Obama has directed.

Although Democrats — and many Republicans — have denounced the Russian interference and called for investigations, Clinton’s aides have not suggested that it caused her defeat. The release of Democratic emails created a “head wind” that impeded Clinton’s campaign, her campaign manager, Robby Mook, has said, but other factors loomed larger.

The last time the electoral college received anything like the attention showered on it this year was in 2000, when the extremely close presidential contest was decided in a December Supreme Court judgment. Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote that year, but Republican George W. Bush won more electoral votes. The electors themselves did not attract as much scrutiny that time around as they have this year, perhaps because of the large role played in 2000 by the high court.

The distance between the popular and electoral votes is even more pronounced this year; although Trump leads in the electoral college, Clinton beat him by almost 3 million individual votes out of the 137 million cast — more than five times larger than Gore’s margin in the popular vote. Clinton ran up huge margins in heavily populated, largely Democratic states, including California, while Trump eked out narrow victories in key swing states.

That and Trump’s relative unpopularity for an incoming president are driving consternation about the formal vote, according to electoral college scholar George C. Edwards III.

“Usually 99% of electors are faithful — they vote the way their state votes,” said Edwards, a political science professor at Texas A & M. “This year there’s a more organized effort than normal to overturn the presumed majority.”

Yet apart from the possibility of a few rogue votes, he said, “I think nothing is going to happen in the end.”

The process of formally naming a president was laid out in the Constitution and its 12th Amendment, adopted in 1804.

After Monday’s voting, which is scheduled to begin in mid-morning in the east and then cascade across the country, ending in Hawaii late in the day, the ballots are sent to Washington. There, on Jan. 6, they will be tallied in a joint session of the House and Senate. Vice President Joe Biden, as president of the Senate, will formally declare the results. Barring a shocking reversal, Trump will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

California’s 55 electors, pledged to Clinton under the winner-take-all rules in effect, are scheduled to meet at the state Capitol in Sacramento at 2 p.m. to cast their ballots.

Trump opponents, working until the last minute to try to overturn the expected result, plan to hold protests outside the state Capitol. Others are scheduled across the country.

President Obama, in his Friday news conference, declined to call on electors to change their votes, saying that “it’s the American people’s job, and now the electors’ job, to decide my successor.”

He called the electoral college “a vestige” from an earlier era, but advised Democrats to spend their time building a message that would win both the popular vote and the electoral college.

“There are some structures in our political system, as envisioned by the founders, that sometimes are going to disadvantage Democrats,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is… if we have a strong message, if we’re speaking to what the American people care about, typically the popular vote and the electoral college vote will align.”

“If we look for one explanation or one silver bullet or one easy fix for our politics, then we’re probably going to be disappointed,” he added.

Outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer of California was among Democrats who have made a post-election push for changes in the electoral system, citing the divergence between the electoral and the popular votes.

But given the nation’s current polarization, the odds of substantive change seem a stretch.

To alter the Constitution would require agreement of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and the approval of three-quarters of the states. Since the high population — and thus high popular vote — areas of the nation are strongly Democratic, the Republican areas have no incentive to change the rules that have favored them. A majority of states sided with Trump.

A new CBS News poll found views about the electoral college to be sharply polarized.

Overall, Americans favored deciding presidents by popular vote, 54% to 41%. Among Democrats, the popular vote was favored by a 60-point margin. Among Republicans, the electoral college was favored by a 43-point margin.

Still, Americans were more comfortable abiding this year by the rules now in place. Asked how they would feel about electors who sided with someone other than their state’s winner, 57% said they disapproved of that action, and only 37% said they’d back the move.

Live coverage from the campaign trail »

cathleen.decker@latimes.com

@cathleendecker

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