U.S. Congress confirms electoral college vote for Trump presidency

Monday, January 9, 2017

On Friday, the U.S. Congress completed the official counting of the electoral college votes, confirming Donald Trump's pending U.S. presidency under their own authority. In most years, this is a formality, but amid concerns about Trump's losing the popular vote by a considerable margin, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and allegations that some of the presidential electors who supported Trump may have been ineligible to serve, more eyes than usual have followed the confirmation process. The final count was 304 votes for Trump and 227 for Hilary Clinton, with Colin Powell a distant third at 3.

Vice President Joe Biden presided over the U.S. Congress as they counted the electoral votes from the 2016 presidential election.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to overrule the electoral college by rejecting invalid votes so long as the objections are made by at least one Representative and at least one Senator and, earlier this week, Representative Shiela Jackson Lee, and six other House Democrats attempted to get it to do just that. Representative Lee has argued that voter suppression was a serious matter in her home state of Texas. While the more reserved Jamie Raskin told Politico he would only get involved in the face of "evidence of technological tampering, ballot stuffing or the illegal purging of people from the rolls or exclusion of voters from the polls." However, because these representatives were not able to recruit even one senator to join them, the objections were ruled out of order.

The organization Americans Take Action also claimed that roughly fifty presidential electors who supported Trump were ineligible to serve because they lived outside the districts they represented or held other government jobs. Although they did not claim that the voters in those districts did not actually cast for Trump or that the outcome would have been different with legitimate electors, eliminating those fifty votes would have put Trump below the 270 threshold that he would need to win. At that point, the Senate and House of Representatives would have chosen a president from among the three candidates who received the most electoral votes: Trump, Clinton and Powell. Both houses of congress currently have Republican party majorities.

In the United States, the president is not elected through a direct popular vote. Rather, each U.S. state is given one presidential elector for each of its senators and representatives. In most states, whoever wins the popular vote within that state is slated to receive all of that state's electoral votes. Complicating this process is the fact that while tradition dictates that electors must vote their constituencies, only 28 U.S. states have laws requiring them to do so, and no elector who has broken those laws has ever been prosecuted. This year, there were seven faithless electors, with two of Trump's electors and five of Hilary Clinton's voting their own consciences. There were protesters present in the gallery as the votes were counted. Three of them were removed by security, with one man shouting "One person, one vote!"

Customarily, the votes are read out loud in alphabetical order by state name. In U.S. history, objections to electoral votes have been rare and have been overruled by the rest of Congress.

The presidency has gone to someone who lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote five times in U.S. history, most recently to Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000.