Donald Trump’s improbable-then-unstoppable run for the presidency takes its last, formal step Monday as the electoral college meets to officially seal his victory.
The usually overlooked, constitutionally obligated gathering of 538 electors in 50 states and the District of Columbia has earned special scrutiny and intense lobbying this year by Trump’s opponents, including last-minute weekend protests in cities such as Denver and Los Angeles after the split election.
Voting began Monday morning in several states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and New Hampshire, with electors in other states scheduled to meet at various times until 5 p.m. Eastern. Results will be officially announced on Jan. 6 in a special joint session of Congress.
In New Hampshire, the state’s four electors gathered around a conference room table with the state secretary of state to cast ballots at the state capitol. A public meeting of the 20 electors from Illinois at the State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. concluded after about 25 minutes.
Democrat Hillary Clinton amassed a nearly 3 million vote lead in the popular vote, but Trump won the state-by-state electoral map — making him president-elect.
The mostly symbolic calls for an electoral college rejection of Trump have grown after revelations of a CIA assessment of Russian hacking that could have boosted Trump’s campaign and, in the view of many Trump critics, raised doubts about his legitimacy.
Trump has dismissed the intelligence community’s analysis of Russia’s role in the election and has boasted of a “historic” electoral landslide. But his 305-to-232 win over Clinton ranks just 46th out of 58 electoral college results.
His detractors are calling on electors to buck the president-elect in favor of Clinton — or Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, or other Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich
“Dear Electors, There will be no peace on earth unless you refuse the one accused of treason and vote for Hillary Clinton instead,” said a holiday letter sent to Oklahoma Republican elector Charles Potts, which he posted on his Facebook page over the weekend.
But Potts and most other electors have said for weeks that they plan to cast votes reflecting the will of their home states.
“Any choice was better than Hillary, so it’s not a hard choice for me,” Potts said in a recent interview.
The CIA’s assessment of Russia’s election interference prompted 10 electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — to request an intelligence briefing to learn more about Moscow’s role, a move endorsed by some of Clinton’s top campaign aides. Other groups have urged electors to postpone a vote until Trump explains what he plans to do about his multinational family business empire.
Trump has declined to explain his plans in person, but has tweeted that he will hand over day-to-day responsibilities for his company to his adult sons, who will do “no new deals” while he occupies the White House. And intelligence officials declined requests to brief electors, saying that they will only provide congressional briefings once a review ordered by President Obama is completed in the coming weeks.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, said Sunday that any concerns about Russia’s alleged interference with the 2016 presidential election were unfounded.
“The entire nonsense about the electors trying to use the Russian hacking issue to change the election results is really unfortunate,” she told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“I think that actually undermines our democracy more than any other conversation that we’re having right now.”
Robert Asher, a Republican elector from Pennsylvania, said that Trump’s most ardent detractors will continue seeking ways to undermine him.
“If it’s not his business interests it’ll be whether he has his dog groomed on Fridays or Saturdays,” he said in a recent interview.
The election, Asher added, “is over. Donald Trump is president. The same as when President Obama was elected, he was elected and whether we liked it or not, it was over.”
Asher said he had received just a handful of messages from concerned voters.
“Ninety percent of it is anti-Trump and ‘vote for Clinton,’ ” he said. “But look, she didn’t win Pennsylvania. If she had, I wouldn’t be going to Harrisburg on the 19th of December. And I would honor what the people in this commonwealth want. They wanted Donald Trump, so that’s who I will support with my vote.”
While Potts, Asher and other electors in the 50 state capitals and the District meet on Monday, the duties began in some states on Sunday with rehearsals and dinner receptions with state governors or other officials.
Electors will cast two votes, one for president and one for vice president. Once ballots are cast, state officials prepare a “certificate of vote” that is sent to Washington for processing by Congress and the National Archives.
Lawmakers will gather Jan. 6 in the House chamber to hear the results of the states in alphabetical order during a session set to be led by Vice President Biden. It will allow lawmakers to challenge the results or the votes of individual electors.
The U.S. Constitution says nothing about how electors should vote, but some states bind them to the results of the popular vote and some state parties essentially force electors to take a loyalty pledge in order to serve.
Just a handful of electors are poised to test the limits this year.
Since writing in the New York Times that he would not vote for Trump because he is unqualified to be president, Texas elector Chris Suprun said he has received death threats and been inundated with media requests.
In an interview Sunday, Suprun said he will vote for a Republican and will reveal his selection in a forthcoming editorial before the 38 Texas electors vote on Monday afternoon. He said several other electors have contacted him wondering what their options are, but wasn’t sure how many would join him in voting against Trump.
“I have no idea what the other electors are going to do,” he said. “They’re entitled to their opinion; I’m entitled to mine.”
While most attention has focused on the intentions of electors from states that voted for Trump, at least one elector from a state that voted for Clinton said he wouldn’t be voting for her.
David Bright, one of Maine’s four electors, said he would cast his ballot instead for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Democratic runner-up, in honor of thousands of younger voters who had supported the senator.
“I can’t do anything to change the results of the election this year,” he wrote in a Facebook post explaining his decision. “But perhaps by encouraging these idealistic voters to stick around, I can change the results of elections to come.”
In Utah, attorney Chris Wharton said he plans to be standing by at the lieutenant governor’s office in Salt Lake City at noon on Monday in hopes that a surprise “faithless elector” who bucks the will of the people might seek out legal help. But Wharton, whose practice specializes in gay rights advocacy, said he expects Utah’s six electors to vote for Trump as expected. He considers Utah’s law calling for the immediate replacement of faithless electors unconstitutional.
“A state law can’t impose restrictions on a right that the federal constitution guarantees,” he said.
Eva Ruth Moravec in Austin and Matthew LaPlante in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.