Could Faithless Electors Flip the Presidential Election for Trump?

With President Donald Trump's continued refusal to concede the presidential election to President-elect Joe Biden, some observers have seen Trump's only way to overturn the certified election results and remain in power is by changing the rules for the U.S. Electoral College. Whether a plan like that could work would depend on how many state-appointed representatives to the Electoral College became "faithless electors," changing their vote midstream and casting their electoral ballots for Trump.

The U.S. employs an electoral college system in order to officially declare the winner of a presidential election. The number of electors a state can allocate to a candidate must reflect that state's number of senators and representatives. Because each state must elect 2 Senators and have at least one Congressional district, every state must have at least 3 electoral votes. In total, there are 538 electoral votes presidential candidates must vie for.

In order to win the Electoral College, a candidate must receive at least 270 electoral votes. According to projections by the Associated Press, Biden is expected to receive 306 electoral votes, more than is required to be formally declared president. Trump is projected to receive 232 votes in the Electoral College. However, if some electors change their minds and decide to vote for Trump, that number could be altered.

According to the political website FairVote, 17 states do not have laws in place that require electors to cast their ballots for the pledged candidate. Biden is the projected victor in 7 of those states.

donald trump
President Donald Trump has claimed victory in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, although the race has been widely called for President-elect Joe Biden. Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty

Illinois and Pennsylvania, both states with no faithless elector laws which Biden won, have 20 electoral ballots each. Biden won Pennsylvania with 50 percent of the vote while Trump received 48.8 percent of the vote. In Illinois, Trump garnered 40.5 percent of the vote to Biden's 57.6 percent of the popular vote. If Trump were able to flip the results in either or both of those states, he still would not have enough votes to carry the Electoral College.

If all the electors in those 7 states—Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island—were to become faithless and cast their ballots for Trump, he would receive an extra 107 electoral votes which would give Trump a total of 339 electoral votes. That would be more than enough votes to obtain a second term in the White House.

The odds of that happening, however, are relatively narrow. Most electors are chosen by the party of the winning candidate in a specific state. It is expected that those electors would cast their electoral ballots for their party's candidate.

Republicans in Pennsylvania have filed litigation on behalf of Trump's re-election campaign alleging that the state's mail-in voting laws are unconstitutional. The lawsuit asked that more than 2.5 million mail-in ballots be discarded or, failing that, for the GOP-majority state legislature to choose the state's electors. However, a Pennsylvania state law states that electors are to be selected by the party of the winning candidate. In Pennsylvania, Biden received approximately 3,459,923 votes to Trump's 3,378,263 votes.

Trump may have attempted to have new electors appointed in states where laws against faithless electors are in effect. In November, Trump invited Michigan Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Michigan Republican Majority Leader Mike Shirkey to the White House. While some observers expressed concerns that Trump would try to flip the state's Biden win, Chatfield and Shirkey said in a joint statement that would not be the case.

joe biden
President-elect Joe Biden is projected to receive 306 electoral votes, more than enough for the Electoral College to officially declare Biden the U.S. president. Mark Makela/Getty

"We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan's electors, just as we have said throughout this election," read the November statement.

GOP lawmakers in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also stated they would not move to change the electors in their states.

Members of the GOP have filed lawsuits in Michigan attempting to claim widespread voter fraud. In litigation filed Monday, attorney Sidney Powell asked that the state's election tallies be decertified due to "hundreds and thousands of illegal, ineligible, duplicate or purely fictitious ballots in the State of Michigan, that constitute a multiple of Biden's purported lead in the State."

According to the Associated Press, Biden received 50.6 percent of the vote in Michigan while Trump received 47.8 percent. Michigan has 16 electoral votes.

Rumors that Trump would attempt to place GOP-friendly electors into states where Biden is expected to receive the full electoral vote are unsubstantiated.

Newsweek reached out to President-elect Biden's transition team for comment.