In response to the perceived injustice of Donald Trump winning the election but not the popular vote, hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition demanding that “faithless electors” in the electoral college vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Trump. It’s not going to happen, but the signers’ Sisyphean effort speaks directly to what the elector college was meant to do in the first place: Prevent somebody unqualified from becoming president.
Let’s establish something right off the bat — there is no way in hell this petition is going to make Clinton president. Even though more than a million people have already signed it, and only 57 percent (131,741,500 people of out of a pool of 231,556,622) of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2016, it seems impossible that 130 million more people are going to sign. Even if somehow that does happen, keep in mind that an unknown, probably sizable percentage of signers aren’t eligible voters. Maybe they’re younger than 18, maybe they’re not American citizens, or maybe they’re a bot. Whatever the reason, their vote shouldn’t count.
So, yes, it’s a totally crazy pipe dream. But here’s what the pipe looks like, and why it’s important:
The founding fathers created the electoral college to protect the rights of smaller states (and, tragically, slaveholders), but they were also worried that voters might not know enough about the candidates to make an informed decision. It was a last bulwar against the masses ignorantly putting someone woefully unqualified into the office of the presidency.
The electoral college is supposed to protect the people. Granted, given its ugly roots protecting slavery, the college only really protects a certain kind of person. Still, on paper it’s supposed to be looking out for us. And if a massive number of people are asking it to live up to its true purpose, shouldn’t it?
The electoral college was meant to be a safeguard, not a spoiler. That, though, is what it’s become. Hence the need to petitions asking it to listen to the people, or movements to circumvent the college at the state level, as ten states and D.C. have already agreed to. Petitions rarely work, especially at this extreme a level, but there’s meaning in the attempt.
Another option, though, is to try paying faithless electors to change their vote.
Photos via Getty Images / Drew Angerer, Getty Images