Why millions of Electoral College protestors are likely to fail at making Hillary Clinton president

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Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the week since the election, outraged that Donald Trump is the new president-elect.

Since Hillary Clinton likely won the popular vote, over 4 million have signed a petition to encourage the Electoral College to make Clinton president instead.

The electors will gather at their state capitols in December, and vote to formally make Trump the 45th president.

With so many citizens calling on the Electoral College to choose Clinton, and some electors even saying they will switch their votes, could it happen?

RELATED: Moments from anti-Trump protests in New York City

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NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people march towards Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12 : Thousands of people gather outside Trump Tower during a protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in New York, United States on November 12, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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How does the electoral vote stand right now?

Each state has an elector for every congressperson they have, plus D.C. gets three, resulting in 538 people in the Electoral College.

Trump won the popular vote in 30 states, plus one of Maine's districts (which, along with Nebraska, splits up its electors by district), giving him 290 electoral votes. Michigan's results still aren't official, but given that Trump only needed 270 to win, it doesn't really matter.

While Clinton won almost 1 million more votes than he did overall because she carried population-heavy states like California and New York, she only won the popular vote in 19 states plus D.C. — giving her 232 electoral votes.

How would electing Clinton work?

Members of the Electoral College who decide to go against their state laws or traditions telling them who to vote for are quite ominously called "faithless electors."

They're pretty rare in modern political history. Thomas H. Neale, an expert in American government and the electoral college for the Congressional Research Service, found that only eight electors have been faithless since 1900.

Only electors from the party that won the popular vote get to cast their ballots in December, so only Republican electors will vote in the states that Trump won, and only Democratic electors in the states Clinton carried.

RELATED: Electoral votes broken down by state

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Electoral vote results by state
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Electoral vote results by state
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If Trump wins Michigan as he's projected to do, Clinton would need 38 electors to vote for her instead. And if she carries the state, Clinton would need 22 electors to flip.

"Even if Michigan's 16 electors went to Clinton, it would still be 290-248, and that's a lot of electors," Neale told Business Insider. "That would require a lot of electors to change their mind."

What are the chances of it actually happening?

Several barriers are in place preventing electors from turning "faithless."

First, Neale said, 30 states plus D.C. have laws on the books "binding" their electors to vote for the candidate who won the state's popular vote. Punishments for becoming a faithless elector range from paying a fine to being replaced with an elector who will follow the rules.

Trump has 155 unbound electoral votes, so there are technically enough electors who could decide to vote for Clinton who wouldn't get punished legally for it.

Second, electors are usually selected by the political parties in each state, Neale said. Because at least 290 electors voting in December will be Republicans, the petitioners encouraging them to vote for Clinton instead would have to convince them to abandon their party.

"The important point here to realize is these are all party loyalists, and they are pretty carefully vetted," Neale said. "Part of that is because there have been the occasional faithless electors in the past who have been an embarrassment to the party, and they want to make sure they avoid it."

A few electors have spoken out about being faithless (they call it being "moral"), but unfortunately for Clinton, they've said they plan to write in former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, or Sen. Bernie Sanders' name.

But members of Congress can formally protest any faithless elector votes, and have them thrown out, when they officially count the ballots in a joint session on January 6, 2017.

"One of my legal colleagues suggests that the joint session is the 'break glass in case of emergency' — it's the last line of defense against an election that may have been corrupted in some way," Neale said.

Finally, history isn't on Clinton's side.

RELATED: Trump name taken down from NYC buildings

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Trump name taken down from NYC buildings
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Trump name taken down from NYC buildings
Workers remove signage on the Trump Place apartment buildings on Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City, U.S., November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Workers remove signage on the Trump Place apartment buildings on Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City, U.S., November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Workers remove signage on the Trump Place apartment buildings on Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City, U.S., November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
TOPSHOT - Letters lie on the sidewalk after workers removed Trump signage from 160 Riverside Blvd. on Manhattan's upper west side, Wednesday, November 16, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump's name will be taken off the three luxury buildings at Trump Place after tenants signed a petition saying they did not want their home associated with the president-elect. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers remove Trump signage from 180 Riverside Blvd. on Manhattan's upper west side November 16, 2016 in New York. President-elect Donald Trump's name will be taken off the three luxury buildings at Trump Place after tenants signed a petition saying they did not want their home associated with the president-elect. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
The facade of a building after workers remove Trump the signage on Manhattan's upper west sideNovember 16, 2016 in New York. President-elect Donald Trump's name will be taken off the three luxury buildings at Trump Place after tenants signed a petition saying they did not want their home associated with the president-elect. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump signage at 180 Riverside Blvd. on Manhattan's upper west side November 16, 2016 in New York. President-elect Donald Trump's name will be taken off the three luxury buildings at Trump Place after tenants signed a petition saying they did not want their home associated with the president-elect. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
A man removes letters from the awning of a building formerly known as Trump Place in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Donald Trump's name is being stripped off three luxury apartment buildings after hundreds of tenants signed a petition saying they were embarrassed to live in a place associated with the Republican president-elect. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A man removes letters from the awning of a building formerly known as Trump Place in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Donald Trump's name is being stripped off three luxury apartment buildings after hundreds of tenants signed a petition saying they were embarrassed to live in a place associated with the Republican president-elect. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A man scrubs off the impressions of letters on a building formerly known as Trump Place in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Donald Trump's name is being stripped off three luxury apartment buildings after hundreds of tenants signed a petition saying they were embarrassed to live in a place associated with the Republican president-elect. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A man uses a power washer to remove the impressions of letters on a building formerly known as Trump Place in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Donald Trump's name is being stripped off three luxury apartment buildings after hundreds of tenants signed a petition saying they were embarrassed to live in a place associated with the Republican president-elect. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Workers remove signage on the Trump Place apartment buildings on Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City, U.S., November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
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"The argument can always be made that, 'Well, Sec. Clinton won the popular election and therefore she should win the presidency.' This is the core argument of the direct popular election reform movement to eliminate the electoral college," Neale said. "But that argument has been raised time and time again, and Congress hasn't acted on this proposal since 1979."

Plus, the few times faithless electors have gone against their party's nominee, they've never swung an election.

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