Clinton wins … OR DOES SHE? | (Soo Oh and Kavya Sukumar/Vox)
Keep in mind a key fact about US presidential elections: Voters don't directly decide who becomes president. Instead, voters in each state vote for specific slates of "electors" who, in turn, convene in December to select the next president.
The vast majority of the time, these electors vote for the candidates they've previously pledged to support. So if a majority of voters in New York elect the Democratic slate of electors, those electors will almost certainly cast their 29 electoral votes for Clinton. In about half the states, electors are bound by law to keep these pledges.
But electors don't absolutely have to follow through. If an elector wants to go rogue and vote for a different presidential candidate, there's really nothing stopping him or her. And in a close race, like the scenario shown on the map above, a couple of "faithless" electors could conceivably swing the entire election.
So consider: Right now, in Washington state, two electors on the Democratic slate have suggested that they won't vote for Clinton. Here's Robert Satiacum, a Democratic elector and a former Bernie Sanders supporter: "No, no, no on Hillary. Absolutely not. No way." A second elector, Bret Chiafalo, has also refused to say he'd back her. Under state law, they'd face criminal charges and a $1,000 fine for defying the state's election results, but they could do it.
If Clinton only won states worth 270 electoral votes, those two rogue electors could potentially tip the race to Trump. If they voted for Sanders, the final tally would be 268-268, and the race would get thrown to the GOP-controlled House (see below). True, in that situation, as Jeff Stein explained here, these Democratic electors would face enormous pressure from the rest of the party to cast a vote for Clinton. And it seems awfully unlikely that two progressive electors would hand the White House to Trump out of spite. But thanks to the Electoral College, this is all totally possible.