Will online petition to ignore electoral college have any impact?

There is an online petition that was created days after Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming loss to Donald Trump that is encouraging the electors of the Electoral College to not vote for the Republican nominee and, instead, cast their vote for Clinton.

Electoral College 2016

Electoral College

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Many are calling it a last-ditch effort to make the Democratic nominee the president, but do these online petitions actually work? Or are they just a coping mechanism for aggrieved Clinton supporters?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

Daniel Brezenoff of Long Beach, Calif. created the petition about two weeks ago on Change.org, an online campaign website that boasts more than 45 million users and about 25,000 new campaigns posted a month. As of Wednesday morning, the petition garnered more than 4.5 million signatures — the most ever received on the site.

The petition went viral overnight on Facebook and Twitter. And Brezenoff realized he had to make a decision.

“It took off and I thought, ‘I have to make a decision here’,” he told the Long Beach Press Telegram. “Somebody has to run with it if it’s going to have legs and I decided I shouldn’t let this one go.”

He stepped down from his position as deputy chief of staff to Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and has since gathered a team of advisers to form a group to lobby members of the Electoral College in several states that went to Trump and don’t have laws against faithless electors, where they are not bound by law to vote for the presidential candidate that their state chose, like Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas for a total of 109 electoral votes.

The Electoral College, defined in the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, was established as a compromise of electing the president by a vote of Congress or a vote of the people. There are 538 electors — equal to the number of representatives and senators in each state — and they cast their votes on December 19. A total of 270 electoral votes is required to elect a president and, if Brezenoff was able to get those state electors to change their vote to Clinton, it could change who wins the presidency.

And while electors have switched their votes before, it never was in large enough numbers to change the outcome.

Even Brezenoff recognizes that his petition is a long shot to bring about change in the system.

“It is not impossible,” he writes on his website titled “Electoral College Petition” where people can learn more about the petition. “There is a groundswell of popular support for this idea.”

The idea is reminiscent of the movement just before the election where progressives wanted people to write in Clinton’s primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the ballot since they didn’t want Clinton in the White House at all.

The petition encourages the electors on December 19, the day the members vote, in states that voted for Trump, to cast their vote for Clinton, saying Trump is unfit to serve and Clinton is expected to win the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

“If electors vote against their party, they usually pay a fine. And people get mad,” the petition states. “But they can vote however they want and there is no legal means to stop them in most states.”

This is Brezenoff’s full-time job now. After resigning from the mayor’s office, he launched his website to give more people information about how the process would work, and he even started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $15,000 to pay for any fees electors might incur as a result of voting their conscience.

“We will be able to pay for living and operational expenses, and relocation — a necessary safety measure, sadly,” he wrote on the campaign page.

But are all his efforts worth it? Change.org co-founder Benn Rattray would say so, stating that his site “can be the most influential social-change agent in the world.” But others claim it to be the work example of slacktivism — actions performed online in support for a political or social cause that usually don’t involve too much effort or time.

Either way, the site has seen some successful campaigns, utilizing social media to essentially become a movement, while others fall way short of their goal.

For example, during the 2012 election, three teen girls from Montclair, N.J., learned in school that it had been 20 years since a woman moderated a presidential debate. They filed a petition on Change.org asking the Commission on Presidential Debates to add a woman to the roster. And after 122,000 signatures, the Commission included Candy Crowley to moderate the second debate.

While the Commission never said that their decision to add a woman to the debates was a direct result of the online petition, the campaign did lead to media coverage about the issue and other high-profile people supporting it.

And that’s what is happening with Brezenoff’s campaign. He hopes the media coverage and increasing support for the issue resonates with some members of the Electoral College and encourages them to act.

“Just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t,” he said. “We are in a new era here for American politics and I think if there’s ever a year for electors to vote their conscience, it’s this year.”

Already, six electors have announced that they will not be voting for Trump, which is not enough to change the outcome of the election. And even Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she would introduce a bill in Congress to ban the Electoral College.

The White House also has a section of its website where it allows people to start petitions, and if a petition garners 100,000 signatures in less than 30 days, the White House is legally obligated to respond to the campaign.

On the first page alone, there are four petitions looking to abolish the Electoral College or have electors change their vote to Clinton, but there are less than 2,000 signatures on each one. (A petition to secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star received more signatures in 2012).

But all that would do is get the White House to respond and say what the rules are and how they can’t necessarily do anything.

Regardless, petitions can be a useful call for change. As to whether Brezenoff is altering the course of this already strange election or encouraging continued slacktivism remains to be seen.