How people elect parliaments
How many Americans does it take to stop Donald Trump becoming US President?
That’s the minimum number of recently-elected US Electoral College delegates and current Republican Congress members it would take to legally switch the selection of the next US president to someone other than ‘president-elect’ Trump.
It’s barely being taken seriously, but moves are afoot to create the opportunity for a third candidate – another Republican, necessarily – to be selected as president in place of Trump.
On December 19 the 538 recently elected Electoral College members will cast their votes for president. Nominally, Donald Trump has the support of 306 of them – a buffer of 37 more than the 270 that he needs to win on the College ballot (which is actually to be officially counted in a ceremony in the US Senate chamber on 6 January 2017).
So if 37 of his electors rat on Trump – becoming ‘faithless electors’ – the choice of President reverts to the 50 delegations of House of Representatives members from each US state.
There is talk of half a dozen Hillary Clinton-backing College delegates tactically switching their votes to a credible third candidate. Their actions are not directly relevant – 37 Trump delegates must switch to crash Trump’s selection by the College.
But current Democratic support aims to give encouragement and legitimacy to the necessary Republican College delegates who would need to switch.
In the past few days there is a tentative move to name Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich – a more mainstream Republican who also ran for his party’s nomination for president – as the beneficiary of the plan. Kasich has publicly rejected the suggestion.
But coordination behind a named alternative, whilst helpful, is not essential. Even if 37 faithless Republican electors scatter among two or more alternatives, a third option will potentially come into existence.
Trump, Clinton and the third candidate with the most College votes would become the three candidates from which – according to the US Constitution – the House of Representative gets to choose the next President.
The United States House of Representatives, which would – state-by-state – choose the next US President of the Electoral College fails to do so on December 19
If that did happen, the nation would spend the three weeks over Christmas in a mad ferment of speculation. Would the Republican-controlled House stick with Trump, or would it also prove faithless to him?
In fact, it is not entirely clear that the votes cast by the electoral college will all be publicly known until January 6.
Such a crisis – should it happen – would lead up to high-stakes voting in the House of Representatives on or after January 6, with just a fortnight until the new President needs to be sworn in.
How would a third candidate find the support of 26 of the 50 House state delegations needed to overcome Trump?
First, it pretty much assumes that all the 14 states with Democrat-majority house delegations back the third candidate. That’s not certain of course, but without it the switch has virtually no chance of success. (At this stage, Democrats might actually prefer to face Trump for the next four years than a more moderate alternative.)
But assuming the congressional Democrats (or enough of them) are on board, that still leaves the ‘Kasich option’ needing to find support from 12 more tied or Republican-dominated state delegations.
How many congressmen would that require?
The minimum number is a mere 13 Republican congressmen, if they are in just the right Republican-controlled or tied states.
In fact, 11 States have House memberships with just a single Republican member, or where just one Republican could combine with supportive Democratic congressmen to create a ‘Kasich’ majority. These include three states with evenly tied partisan memberships – Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey.
11 of the hypothetical 12 states needed to swing to the ‘Kasich option’ candidate require just a single Republican congressman to switch away from supporting Trump (palest red colour)
Just one additional state would be needed. And seven states – Idaho, Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi and West Virginia – could provide that 26th delegation with just two congressmen switching to ‘Kasich’.
Many other options would exist to make up the necessary twelve ‘Kasich’ Republican states, but they would require various combinations of 3, 4 or 5 House members to switch.
John Kasich’s home state of Ohio, for example, might well be behind the plan, but Ohio requires at least 5 Republican House members to join the state’s Democratic members to make up a switching state majority.
Texas – home to the one Republican College elector who has so far told the media he will be ‘faithless’ to Trump – requires at least 8 switching congressmen to become a ‘Kasich’ state.
All this is wild-eyed speculation of course – don’t actually expect it to happen.
But very strange things have already been seen this year. If Trump commits some dramatic mistake in advance of December 19, or if his business interests are thought by enough College electors to present some legal barrier to office, anything might happen.
In any case, the fact is that a minimum of just 50 Americans – 37 Electoral College electors and 13 Republican congressmen – can make it happen.