STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This is the day when electors from all 50 states, the Electoral College, will cast their votes for president. Donald Trump is assured of a victory unless there is some massive and unexpected defection. NPR's Brian Naylor looks at how the process actually works.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It's a convoluted process that the founders left us to go about choosing a president.
GEORGE EDWARDS: It's a bizarre way of doing things.
NAYLOR: That's George Edwards, distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M. He says the founders didn't want the nation's citizens to directly vote for president. So on Election Day, what people actually voted for as they cast their ballots for Trump or Clinton or someone else was an elector for that candidate. How do you get to be an elector? Edwards says there are two main ways.
EDWARDS: One is that at state party conventions, which would be held before the presidential election, of course, the party selects a slate of electors to represent that party in the election.
NAYLOR: That's how Jonathan Barnett was chosen. He's a Trump elector in Arkansas and was elected during his state party convention in August. Barnett believes that, as a former state representative and national GOP committeeman, he was chosen because of his long ties to the party.
JONATHAN BARNETT: I think it's a combination, but mostly dedication and loyalty to the party and history with the party as a known factor.
NAYLOR: Professor Edwards says there is another way for people to become electors who are not selected by a state convention.
EDWARDS: Generally, the alternative is a central party committee selects a slate of electors.
NAYLOR: And that's how Karen Packer became a Democratic elector in Oregon. She's vice chair of the Oregon Democratic Party and automatically qualified for the job. She's looking forward to voting today, even if in a losing cause.
KAREN PACKER: I feel very honored. I got an actual certificate, and it's suitable for framing. We all meet in the Senate chambers at the state capitol and signify our votes.
NAYLOR: It's mostly party officials or activists who become electors. The only disqualifications are federal office holders, like members of Congress or people in the executive branch. And there is no clause in the Constitution that requires electors to remain loyal. While some states have passed laws requiring electors to vote for their party's nominee - the so-called faithless electors issue - Edwards says it's not clear if they would hold up in court.
EDWARDS: I would argue that they're not enforceable because they're unconstitutional, that the Constitution gives electors the right to exercise discretion.
NAYLOR: The votes cast today in each state capitol will be sent to Washington. They'll be formally tallied on January 6 during a joint session of Congress.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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