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Democrats turn 'faithless electors' in U.S. Electoral College surprise

By Roberta Rampton and Eric M. Johnson
| WASHINGTON/SEATTLE

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE At least five Democrats who had been committed to back Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Electoral College cast ballots for other people on Monday, the largest number of “faithless electors” seen in well over a century.

The 538 electors were voting across the country to confirm Republican Donald Trump as the next president. The event is normally a formality but took on extra prominence this year after some Democrats urged electors to revolt and switch to Clinton, who won the national popular vote on Nov. 8.

In the end, it was not Republicans breaking ranks. The Democratic dissidents – four from Washington state and one from Maine – underscored deep divisions within their party and effectively dashed long-shot hopes by some activists that Republicans pledged to Trump might back Clinton.

By late afternoon, no Republican elector was reported to have cast a ballot for anyone other than Trump, although one elector from Texas had written that he planned to do so.

The move by the five was a rare break from the tradition – and in many states a legal requirement – of casting an Electoral College ballot as directed by the outcome of that state’s popular election.

It appeared to be the largest number of electors not supporting their party’s nominee since 1872, when 63 Democratic electors did not vote for party nominee Horace Greeley, who had died after the election but before the Electoral College convened, according to Fairvote.org. Republican Ulysses S. Grant had won re-election in a landslide.

There is almost no chance that Monday’s vote will change the outcome of the election, which gave the White House to Trump after he won a majority of Electoral College votes. The New York businessman is set to take office on Jan. 20.

SYSTEM CALLED INTO QUESTION

Clinton lost last month’s election on a state-by-state basis despite winning the popular vote nationwide by nearly 2.9 million votes, raising questions about the role of the Electoral College, established in 1787.

It was a surprising twist to have Democratic electors change their votes and become what is known as “faithless electors.”

Four of the 12 Democratic electors in Washington state broke ranks, with three voting for Colin Powell, a former Republican secretary of state, and one for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American elder who has protested oil pipeline projects in the Dakotas.

In Maine, Democratic elector David Bright said he would cast his vote for Clinton’s rival for the party nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who carried the state in the party nominating contest.

In Colorado, where a state law requires electors to cast their ballots for the winner of the state’s popular vote, elector Michael Baca tried to vote for Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich – and was replaced. Baca had waged an unsuccessful legal battle against the law.

A candidate must secure 270 votes to win the college. Trump won 306 electors from 30 states on Nov. 8. By late afternoon on Monday, electors in 43 states had voted, with 259 votes cast for Trump and 156 for Clinton, the New York Times reported, citing the Associated Press.

The Electoral College votes will be officially counted during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.

‘FAITHLESS ELECTORS’

Twenty-four states have laws trying to prevent electors – most of whom have close ties to their parties – from going rogue. But once in a while, “faithless electors” will ignore their pledge and change their vote.

The most recent instance of a “faithless elector” was in 2004, according to the Congressional Research Service. There have been just eight since 1900, each in a different election.

Some Democrats had urged Republican electors to change their votes to Clinton because of her victory in the popular vote.

That outcome, combined with allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia hacked into Democratic Party emails to try to sway the election for Trump, has put the spotlight on the Electoral College and spurred calls for constitutional reforms.

In Austin, Texas, on Monday, about 100 people chanting: “Dump Trump” and waving signs reading: “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” gathered at the state capitol trying to sway electors to change their votes. Texas is the largest state Trump won in the election.

At least one Republican elector – Christopher Suprun from Texas – said he would not vote for Trump. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Suprun said he had concerns about Trump’s foreign policy experience and business conflicts.

The Electoral College assigns each state electors equal to its number of representatives and senators in Congress.

When voters go to the polls to cast a ballot for president, they are actually choosing a presidential candidate’s preferred slate of electors for their state.

(Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del., Jon Herkovitz in Austin, Texas, and David Morgan and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

-Reuters