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Michigan electors vote today for president

A lot of attention is being paid today to the usually almost-anonymous job of being a presidential elector.

This afternoon at the state Capitol, in the state Senate chamber, Michigan’s 16 votes for president will be cast by presidential electors - one vote for every congressional district in the state, plus two at-large electors.

It’s a little-noted honor to be an elector. Typically, it’s held for party stalwarts looking to be a footnote to history.

This year, though, these electors are facing pressure to make history by refusing to vote for Donald Trump and, thus, to deny him a majority of electoral votes and throw the question of who the next president will be to the U.S. House of Representatives.

That has only happened twice before in American history - including in 1876 with the truly weird election when three states approved two slates of electors to cast ballots. It took a commission made up of senators, representatives and Supreme Court justices to sort it out. Rutherford B. Hayes won - which earned him the nickname RutherFRAUD B. Bayes.

The point here being that, it usually doesn’t, but anything can happen.

This year, there is a group calling themselves the “Hamilton Electors” after Alexander Hamilton (he explained the purpose of the Electoral College in the Federalist Papers).

Hamilton said the electors are supposed to act as a check on the whims of the masses and use their judgement to ensure someone unfit does not assume the office.

But, since then, legislatures in Michigan and 28 other states have adopted “faithless elector” laws that sanction electors who don’t follow through on their commitment to vote for their party’s candidate.

But, while individual electors have risked incurring their party’s wrath by defecting, the question of whether electors can actually do that, has never actually been tested in court.

Which is why, the Hamilton Electors are saying, ‘Hey; electors, take a chance.’

The effort here in Michigan is being organized by a self-described socialist piano teacher from Ann Arbor named Jessica Prozinski. “We are calling on the Electoral College to not vote for Donald Trump and, instead, vote for a candidate that they feel good about voting for, so to vote their conscience. We’re going to be rallying at noon and then we’re going to go into the Capitol and try to convince the Electoral College to do that.”

(Good luck getting in the state Senate gallery, though. This is a ticketholders-only event.)

Michigan law says any elector who does not cast their vote for their party’s candidate - the one who won the state - has effectively resigned and will be replaced.  

But, again, that’s never actually been tested.

It’s such a rare occurrence, that if more than one elector across the country bolts, that will be the biggest Electoral College revolt in the nation’s history.  

However, there’s no evidence that Michigan’s Republican electors will make that sort of history. Multiple news organizations have polled the delegation with no one signaling insurrection.

The Republican Party and the Trump campaign have also kept in touch with their electors in an effort to ensure that this political season - which has defied expectations at every turn - doesn’t yield one more surprise.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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