The Electoral College is a convenient target. Before a presidential election takes place, political parties in each state select a slate of electors that’s equal in number to the state’s representation in the House and Senate. In nearly every state, electors for the party whose candidate wins the popular vote in that state then meet on December 19 to vote for president. And they typically vote for whichever candidate won that in-state popular vote. As it stands, Hillary Clinton has amassed a popular-vote lead of more than 2.6 million votes over Trump.
But efforts to abolish the Electoral College or use it as a mechanism to stop Trump’s election are unlikely to succeed in the near term. One obstacle is a Republican-controlled Congress. If no presidential candidate secures 270 votes when the electors meet this month, the House would have the power to elect the president, and there’s little evidence they’d pick someone other than Trump. Congressional Republicans also have little incentive to consider a constitutional amendment to end the Electoral College in light of the results of the election.
“There is very little indication that the political will currently exists for either of these scenarios to come to pass,” said Edward Foley, an election-law expert at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. “For the Electoral College to repudiate Trump, there would have to be a groundswell of Republicans turning against Trump that we have not seen happen within the party. As for abolishing the Electoral College, it’s extraordinarily difficult to amend the Constitution, and despite the fact that a majority of Americans support the idea, we have never been able to pass an amendment to achieve that.”
Focusing attention on the mismatch between the popular vote and the outcome of the presidential election allows Democrats to make the case that Trump does not have a mandate from the American public. But that doesn’t mean it’s good political strategy for Democrats to take aim at the Electoral College now.
To start, Democrats may feel increasingly demoralized if they attempt to channel their post-election angst into political causes they ultimately fail to win. And if Democrats blame the Electoral College for their loss, that could distract the party from the task of building up support in the rural counties and other parts of the country where Democrats struggled to win votes in the 2016 election. It may also be more difficult for Democrats to win over Trump voters in the future if his supporters interpret efforts to stop him from taking office, or do away with the Electoral College, as evidence of unfair backlash against their preferred candidate.
On top of that, it might be harder for Democrats to credibly argue that Trump poses a threat to democratic institutions if they themselves appear willing to subvert or do away with one of those institutions—particularly if liberal lawmakers face accusations from Republicans that they are doing so for partisan gain.