Inside One Man's 'Hail Mary' Attempt to Yet Elect Hillary Clinton President
The Change.org petition calling on the Electoral College to make Hillary Clinton president has nearly 4.7 million signatures
In an election year full of unexpected victories, Daniel Brezenoff is hoping to pull off one more.
Brezenoff, a clinical social worker and professor in California, is the man behind a record-breaking Change.org petition calling on the Electoral College to make Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States.
Brezenoff launched his petition on Nov. 9, one day after Donald Trump‘s election, hoping to spark a discussion with friends on social media. But on Thursday, Change.org announced that the call to action had officially become the fastest growing and most signed petition in the website’s 10-year history. As of Monday, it had more than 4.7 million signatures, and several celebrity supporters, including Lady Gaga, Laverne Cox and Sia.
Brezenoff, who teaches human services at California State University Dominguez Hills, says he never imagined his petition would get this much support — but it gives him hope that the last-ditch effort just might be able to prevent a Trump presidency.
“I know it’s a longshot but this has been a year of longshots and unpredictable outcomes,” he tells PEOPLE. “Very few people thought Trump was going to get the nomination of his party, very few people thought he had a shot at the presidency. It’s been a year of surprises.”
In Brezenoff’s petition, he declares President-elect Trump “unfit to serve,” adding, “His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience make him a danger to the Republic.”
“Donald Trump is a danger to the Constitution, and the Electors have the power to stop him,” he also said in a press release. “This is constitutional, it’s patriotic, it’s possible, and we’re just getting started.”
The petition comes as Clinton’s lead in the popular vote continues to grow, with the former secretary of state receiving 64,874,143 votes to Trump’s 62,516,883 — a difference of 2,357,260, according to figures released by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
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But as Brezenoff well knows, it’s the Electoral College, not the American people, who will officially elect the nation’s next president when its members cast their votes on Dec. 19.
“It’s a Hail Mary,” Brezenoff says of his efforts. “I knew this was the only constitutional path open to stopping him. I just thought, somebody’s gotta give it a shot.”
Trump’s Electoral College lead stands at 306, compared to Clinton’s 232. Brezenoff’s goal — with the help of a coalition of like-minded academics, Democratic electors, and at least one elected official — is to persuade Republican electors to cast their ballots for Clinton instead of Trump — even if it means voting against their pledged candidate or the candidate voters in their state supported. (In 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, there are laws that prohibit electors from voting against their pledged candidate. Brezenoff is targeting electors in the other 21 states who can legally vote for anyone they want.)
“We have a coalition of people around the country who are in positions of some authority and we together are contacting selected electors who — based on what we know about them — might be open to voting against Trump,” Brezenoff explains. “We’re trying to speak directly to their values and beliefs.”
So far the coalition has not been able to officially sway any Republican electors.
Based on the reaction they’ve received so far, Brezenoff says, “My sense is that there are electors who do not support Donald Trump, who do not think that he’s fit or qualified to be president, and who in their hearts would love to vote for someone else. Some of them vote with their party no matter what their conscience tells them. But I think some people [falsely] think they’re legally bound to vote with their party. And I think some of them are scared to vote for someone else because of the potential political fallout.”
“So we’re working to show them that they’re supported by many Americans, including many Republicans,” he added.
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In addition to efforts by the coalition to contact electors, Brezenoff says thousands of public volunteers have reached out to state Republican Party chairs in states where Trump won a majority of votes. “We’re asking people to remind those officials that the electors have the right to vote their conscience and ask those officials to affirm that publicly,” he says.
Letting the Grassroots Do the Dirty Work
Brezenoff’s petition comes in addition to a three-state recount effort launched by Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Stein has raised more than $9 million in donations for recounts in the three crucial battleground states. Clinton’s campaign has said it will participate in the recount efforts — which Trump has labeled a “scam.”
Brezenoff also see allies in the handful of voters who have declared they will be “faithless electors.” The group — comprised of at least seven people, six who have spoken out publicly — are calling themselves the “Hamilton Electors,” and have vowed to stop Trump from becoming president.
In an unexpected twist, six of the publicly announced voters are Democrats, bound to vote for Clinton, who are planning to instead cast their votes for a “reasonable Republican who does not have Donald Trump’s questionable ethics.”
Brezenoff, who says he’s spoken with the faithless electors several times, praises them as “good people who are being very courageous.”
“Our petition says Hillary Clinton on it but I think really anyone who is affirming that electors may vote their conscience and encouraging them to do that, and anyone who’s trying to stop Trump, I would consider an ally and I’m very supportive of those efforts,” he says.
Brezenoff says his coalition has not reached out to anyone in the Clinton campaign, nor have they been contacted by her camp. “And that’s okay,” he says. “I think they’re in a position where they have to let the grassroots do this work.”
Taking It ‘Old School’
With the support of millions, Brezenoff has raised more than $85,000, the majority of which will go towards a media campaign to promote his petition. As part of that campaign, Brezenoff plans to publish an open letter in newspapers serving the capital cities of the states in which Trump won the most votes, including Austin, Tallahassee and Atlanta.
“We think it’s important to be in black and white,” Brezenoff says of his message. “We’re taking it old school because the Electoral College is as old school as it gets.”
After Dec. 19, any remaining funds will support “continued advocacy for progressive causes and electoral equality,” Brezenoff says.
“Even if the petition doesn’t succeed, I’m very glad we’ve got a national conversation happening about the Electoral College, about the Constitution. That’s really important,” he says. “We’ve also built a great network of progressives and we’re going to continue working on electoral reform and protect the progress of the last eight years, no matter who’s inaugurated in January.”