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Harassment or Hail Mary? Electors feel besieged

Protestors demonstrate against President-elect Donald Trump outside Independence Hall November 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Mark Makela | Getty Images
Protestors demonstrate against President-elect Donald Trump outside Independence Hall November 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

To supporters of Hillary Clinton, the number looks intoxicating: 155 electors in states where the popular vote went for Donald Trump — some by slim margins — who apparently aren't legally bound to vote for the GOP presidential nominee when the Electoral College meets Dec. 19.

Solicit them like lobbyists schmooze members of Congress, right? Persuade just a portion, and you've got the first woman president, winner of the popular vote, certified by a constitutional authority.

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She's got 232 in the bag. She would need 38 "faithless electors" to win this game.

That's the problem with this particular political fantasy. Though electors in several states report that they're getting thousands of emails, letters and even telephone calls to ask them to switch their votes, they're among the Republican Party's most loyal members.

"I fully intend to vote for Donald Trump," said Jim Skaggs of Bowling Green, Ky., one of that state's eight electors, who added that he really doesn't like Trump. "It's not a law, I don't think. ... But I think it's a duty."

"I fully intend to vote for Donald Trump. It's not a law, I don't think. ... But I think it’s a duty"

He's right. Kentucky is one of 28 states, according to the Congressional Research Service and additional USA TODAY research, that don't mandate their electors to vote for the winner of their state's popular vote. The Constitution and federal law are silent on the matter.

More than 4.5 million supporters have signed a Change.org petition advocating electors' change of heart, but the desire is little more than a pipe dream, election experts said. Two Democratic electors in Colorado and Washington state, where Clinton won the electoral votes and electors are obligated under state law to vote for her, have launched their own movement that they've dubbed "Moral Electors" to achieve the same result — or more likely throw the decision to the House of Representatives as happened in 1824.

"This is a long shot. It's a Hail Mary," P. Bret Chiafalo of Everett, Wash., told Politico. "However, I do see situations where — when we've already had two or three (Republican) electors state publicly they didn't want to vote for Trump. How many of them have real issues with Donald Trump in private?"

Where Chiafalo sees a Hail Mary play, some Trump electors consider the drama more as harassment.

"Hillary's got a great campaign going," said Sharon Geise, an elector from Mesa, Ariz., who estimates 8,000 emails have flooded her inbox. "It's the same thing, pretty much. Basically: Vote for Hillary Clinton. It's bizarre. I don't dare answer my phone."

A dozen letters urging her to back anybody but Trump arrived at her home Thursday.

"She has to stop all of this," Geise said of Clinton. "This is ridiculous."

It's not clear whether Clinton supports this movement. She conceded to Trump on the day after the election, and President Obama, a Democrat who endorsed his former secretary of State, committed to a smooth transition of power.

Even delegations from states such as Florida that can inflict penalties for voting by conscience instead of popular vote haven't escaped activists' barrage.

In Florida, a faithless elector would be charged with a misdemeanor, prohibited from casting an Electoral College vote and replaced, presumably with an alternate more faithful to the popular-vote results in the state, said Franita Tolson, a voting rights law professor at Florida State University. That elector's political future within the GOP would be toast.

Historically, fewer than two electors per presidential election have changed their votes because they didn't want the candidate on whose slate they ran, according to FairVote.org, a District of Columbia-based non-partisan, non-profit group. The most recent was in 2004 and might have been a mistake.

"It sounds like sour grapes to me," the incoming president of Florida's Senate and an elector, Joe Negron of Stuart, said about the movement to change electors' stripes. "We had an election in Florida, and Donald Trump received the majority of votes and therefore gets 29 electoral votes."

Elector Susan Moore of Pensacola, Fla., has been a Republican Party loyalist since she started volunteering in Tennessee when she was 12. She has more than 800 emails, many of them part of the same form letter, in her inbox.

"When it comes down to it, I think these people mean well," she said of the anti-Trump sector. "But they're asking us to do something that's really not going to work out the way they want."

Contributing: Isadora Rangel, The (Stuart, Fla.) News. Joseph Gerth reports for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez reports for The Arizona Republic and Joseph Baucum reports for the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal. Follow them on Twitter: @Joe_Gerth, @yvonnewingett and @josephbaucumPNJ