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Out Women Seek to Give Voters Bigger Voice in Electoral College

A group of LGBTQ women, led by attorney Amanda Werner, are giving voters an opportunity to speak directly to the Electoral College.
Attorney Amanda Werner
Attorney Amanda WernerAmanda Werner

A group of tech-savvy LGBTQ women want to make America great by giving voters an opportunity to speak directly to the Electoral College.

DemocrEC contributors Carly Usdin (right), Keely Weiss (second from right), Molly Adams (middle) and Carmen Rios (third from left)
DemocrEC contributors Carly Usdin (right), Keely Weiss (second from right), Molly Adams (middle) and Carmen Rios (third from left)Amanda Werner

The women built a website called DemocrEC that allows people to email their electors and urge them to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton, who leads the popular vote by an estimated 2.5 million votes. Similar websites have been created, but according to cofounder Amanda Werner, DemocrEC allows voters to email electors anonymously without revealing the identity of either party.

“This is an opportunity for us to use what is perceived by many people to be an undemocratic institution to achieve a democratic result, which I think is just some beautiful poetry right there,” Werner told NBC Out.

The lawyer and consumer rights advocate argued that President-elect Donald Trump—who has never held public office and recently agreed to a $25 million dollar settlement to end a fraud case involving his private university—is unqualified to be president.

Attorney Amanda Werner
Attorney Amanda WernerAmanda Werner

“The fact is, until the electors actually vote on December 19, Donald Trump has not won the Electoral College,” she said.

On that date, 538 electors will choose whether or not to cast their votes for Trump, who needs at least 270 electoral votes to officially win. One Republican elector has announced he will not cast his vote for Trump. Werner hopes other electors will follow suit.

“We think instead [the Electoral College] should honor the will of the American people and stand up for democracy by voting for the person who is supported [by] the majority of Americans,” she said.

Gregory T. Angelo, President of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, dismissed movements like DemocrEC as “Calamity Jane caterwauling,” a reference to the pants-wearing, rifle-wielding frontierswoman of the Wild West.

“Electors by and large have already pledged their allegiance to Donald Trump long before the results of the election took place, and many of them were selected by the Trump campaign, and Mr. Trump himself,” he said. Angelo added that electors are bound to cast a vote for the individual who won their state and that it would be wrong for them not to.

When asked if he felt Trump is qualified to be president, he responded with a question of his own: “Well, what is qualified and what is unqualified?”

“I feel that Donald Trump deserves a chance to lead, as Hillary Clinton instructed us, and I look forward to seeing what a Trump presidency looks like following the inauguration,” Angelo said.

There is no federal law or constitutional provision requiring electors to vote for the party that nominated them, but in 29 states and the District of Columbia, electors from the winning party in those states are required to vote for that party’s candidate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Just a few electors have gone rogue in the past with no impact on elections, according to Sarah Winski, a public historian at the National Constitution Center.

“The constitutionality of whether an elector can choose to go against the state law that says they’re supposed to vote a certain way, and whether they can be punished for that, is not totally clear,” Winski said. She noted that in some states with these laws, which were created after the Electoral College was founded, rogue electors can face fines or be disqualified. But that has never happened.

Part of the reason the Electoral College was created, Winski said, was to achieve a balance of power between the unequally populated states in selecting a president. But it was also during a time before television and the Internet, when communication was scarce. Only white male property owners could vote in the late 18th Century, and they had no way of knowing much about presidential candidates in far away states, so direct elections were largely out of the question, she explained.

The Founding Fathers compromised on a system in which representatives, typically state legislatures, picked electors to vote on the president, but that process has since changed. Nowadays, political parties in each state nominate electors, and when people vote for a presidential candidate, they are actually voting for the electors from that candidate’s political party, who in turn pledge to vote for that candidate. But the Founding Fathers did not intend for political parties to choose electors, Winski said.

“That’s kind of where everything changes from what the Founding Fathers at the [Constitutional] Convention thought, to how the system actually works today,” she said. “They thought ... the Electoral College would be this leading body of citizens who were more knowledgeable about national affairs selecting people for the job, or at least putting out the top candidates, and if there was no clear winner, the House of Representatives would be often picking who that winner was,” she said. That’s only happened twice.

The idea that the Electoral College has a purpose to protect the presidency from tyrants, and one that’s been widely circulated by groups that oppose Trump, is a “bit of a miss,” Winski added. She clarified that while some Founding Fathers like Alexander Hamilton had concerns about a possible tyrant ascending to the White House, the overall idea was to ensure the president is chosen through an election process, because they didn’t want a king to come to power through birthright.

She said that if enough electors go rogue (37 of them would have to dump Trump for him to lose), the Electoral College would head into uncharted territory.

“There’s no historical precedent for it happening on that large of a scale,” Winski said.

An unprecedented result nearly 230 years after the birth of the Electoral College is exactly what the DemocrEC team is hoping for.

“I think we should base our choice of president on the democratic will of the people,” Werner said.

Werner acknowledged that asking Republican electors to vote for Clinton “is a tall order” and vowed her group will continue to organize if Trump wins.

“This is an ongoing resistance movement,” she added.

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