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Electoral College to vote on president amid controversy

After a divisive campaign season and citing Donald

After a divisive campaign season and citing Donald Trump's loss in the popular vote, some electors and activists across the country, including these demonstrators in Manhattan on Dec. 12, 2016, have launched efforts to persuade electors not to cast their votes for the president-elect. Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images / Pacific Press

On Monday, the 538 members of the Electoral College — including 29 from New York — will meet to validate the results of the presidential election.

But in the wake of a divisive campaign season and citing President-elect Donald Trump’s loss in the popular vote, several electors and activists across the country have launched last-ditch efforts that aim to keep the real estate mogul from reaching the Oval Office.

The attempts include a phone campaign urging GOP electors to vote against Trump, an online petition that has collected almost 5 million signatures pressing electors to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton because she defeated Trump by nearly 2.8 million votes in the popular vote and an unsuccessful campaign by some Democratic electors to recruit Gov. John Kasich of Ohio as an alternative to Trump.

Political scientists call the attempts to thwart Trump from assuming office a long shot, noting that electors opposed to Trump would need to persuade at least 37 of the 306 Republican electors pledged to him to vote for someone else. Doing so would keep Trump from reaching the 270 electoral votes needed to lock in the presidency, but also would kick the issue to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. It is unlikely that body would vote against him.

Trump’s detractors — including several Democratic electors who have banded together under the moniker “The Hamilton Electors” — argue the founding fathers created the Electoral College as a body meant to safeguard the nation’s highest office by scrutinizing the fitness of each candidate. It also was intended to ensure that smaller states would have the same say as bigger ones.

Under the centuries-old system, each state is allocated electors based on its number of congressional districts and to account for its two senators. The electors, typically state party loyalists who are voted into the role every four years during the fall election, then meet in their respective state capitals in December to cast a vote for president and vice president that typically reflects who won their state.

Christopher Suprun, a GOP elector from Dallas and a member of the Hamilton Electors, said he believes electors have a “constitutional duty to vote their conscience,” and not just “show up and cast a vote.”

“This is about doing the right thing, even though it may not be what is popular,” Suprun said in a phone interview.

He is one of only two Republican electors who have said publicly that they are not voting for Trump, according to The Associated Press. The other, Art Sisneros of Dayton, Texas, resigned last month, saying in a blog post it would be a “dishonor” to vote for Trump.

Suprun, a paramedic and lifelong Republican who first announced he would not vote for Trump in a Dec. 5 New York Times Op-Ed piece, said he believes the president-elect “lacks the foreign policy experience to serve as commander-in-chief” and is troubled by Trump’s penchant to attack others on Twitter.

Asked about the odds of his effort succeeding, Suprun said “until we start casting ballots, there’s still a lot of time left for us to work.”

In New York, there are no Republican electors to sway, because Clinton’s victory guaranteed all 29 slots would be picked up by Democrats, though none are bound by state law to vote according to the outcome of the state’s popular vote, said New York State Board of Elections spokesman Thomas Connolly.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck Estates said he expected all of the electors would record their votes for Clinton, the state’s former U.S. senator, citing the “historical significance” of casting an electoral vote for the first female presidential nominee from a major party.

DiNapoli said he understood the “frustration” of voters who are looking to the Electoral College to block Trump’s presidency.

“In my lifetime, there have been two occasions where the person who won the popular vote did not win the election because of the electoral vote,” DiNapoli said, referring to Clinton’s recent loss and that of Democrat Al Gore to George W. Bush in 2000. “I think it’s worth looking at. I’m undecided whether to scrap it totally, or go to a process where you can have electors chosen by congressional district, but I do think it’s worth revisiting.”

The state’s roster of electors includes former President Bill Clinton, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and a mix of elected officials and union leaders, including Gary LaBarbera of Wantagh, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

Earlier this week, state electors Melissa Mark-Viverito, the New York City Council speaker, and Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers joined 40 other electors nationwide in signing a letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, requesting all electors receive a security briefing on possible Russian interference in the fall election.

Their request follows reports that Russian government operatives hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and top Hillary Clinton campaign aides, and released the information to influence the outcome of the presidential election. Suprun said the group has yet to receive a response.

Trump’s transition senior aide Jason Miller, in a recent phone conference with reporters, pegged the efforts to change the outcome of the Electoral College vote as an attempt to “delegitimize” the election, and said at a “certain point” people will realize “that the election from last month is going to stand.”

“We’re moving ahead and put together a successful administration that’s ready go to work serving the American people,” Miller said.

Trump himself has changed his opinion on the Electoral College. In a Nov. 6, 2012, Twitter post, he said “the Electoral College is a disaster for a democracy.” Four years later, and days after his victory, he said on Twitter, “the Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play.”

A CBS News poll released Thursday found 54 percent of voters supported abandoning the electoral system and relying solely on the popular vote for future presidential elections.

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