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Donald Trump won 30 states in 2016 – enough for 306 votes – while Hillary Clinton's 20 state wins would equate to 232 votes. *
But that didn't happen. When the electoral college had to vote, Trump lost two votes and Clinton lost five. In Washington alone, four voters passed Clinton: three voted for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the other for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American activist.
Electoral college members – with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which are divided by congressional district – are required to vote for the highest elector in their state. In most states, however, nothing prevents her from breaking that promise and voting for another candidate. And there is a name for them: unfaithful voters. A total of 10 voters cast faithless ballots in 2016, seven of which – the highest since 1912 – actually count.
Those seven faithless voters weren't numerous enough to swing the election – it takes 270 votes to win – but faithless voters could swing the 2020 election if they're close between Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Biden is currently the leader in eight states that Trump won four years ago: Arizona (+3.9 points), Florida (+1.4 points), Georgia (+1.2 points), Iowa (+1.2 points) ), Michigan (+7.2 points), North Carolina (+2.7 points), Pennsylvania (+4.4 points) and Wisconsin (+6.1 points).
If Biden won in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he would have enough for 278 votes. Let's say nine voters in the states where Biden wins do not vote for the Democratic candidate or Trump. That would mean that none of the candidates got 270 votes. In a scenario where none of the candidates get 270 votes, the vote would be postponed to the House of Representatives. But instead of voting as individual representatives, they would have to vote as a state – with each state receiving one vote. While Democrats hold most of the seats in the House of Representatives, Republicans currently control most of the state delegations. Starting today, Trump would be preferred in such a scenario, as would representatives who voted by party lines. **
There are a few laws designed to prevent unfaithful voters: Voters in 14 states, including Iowa and Michigan, would void their votes if they didn't vote for the statewide winner, according to fairvote.org. These state laws were upheld by the US Supreme Court in July when it ruled on the Chiafalo v Washington case. The Supreme Court also found state penalties legal for unfaithful voters. Five states punish unfaithful voters with fines.
State lawmakers have the power to determine how voters are selected for their state. A total of 538 voters form the electoral college. They never changed the final result for the president. In 1836, however, they almost changed the vice-president's result – which voters also have to vote for. Democratic candidate Richard Johnson had enough voters to force the Vice President's race into the Senate – where he was confirmed. If none of the vice presidential candidates get 270 votes, the Senate can vote.
As of Monday, FiveThirtyEight was forecasting an 88% chance of winning for Biden, while The Economist was forecasting a 91% chance for the Democratic candidate to win. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden has a national survey average of +8.9 points. Clinton had a national poll average of +5.5 on the same day four years ago.
* In 2016, Trump won 30 states and Maine's 2nd Congressional District. Clinton won 20 states and the District of Columbia.
** In this scenario, Trump wins the 2nd Congressional District of Maine and the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska, which FiveThirtyEight classifies as politically right of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin
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