The petition started floating around the day after the election, November 9, asking people to sign on in support of swaying the votes of the Electoral College toward Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“On December 19, the Electors of the Electoral College will cast their ballots,” the petition on Change.org states. “If they all vote the way their states voted, Donald Trump will win. However, they can vote for Hillary Clinton if they choose.”
It has since exploded to become the largest Change.org petition ever created in the United States, topping out at 4.37 million signatures as of Wednesday night and has garnering support from celebrities like Lady Gaga, Pink, Jeffrey Wright, Laverne Cox, Gigi Hadid, Sia, Amanda Seyfried, Rosie Perez, k.d. lang, Alyssa Milano, Guillermo Diaz and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.
But perhaps most notably, the man behind the project is Long Beach’s own Daniel Brezenoff, former staffer to Mayor Robert Garcia.
“I did not anticipate it would get this kind of response,” he told the Post on a phone call late Wednesday night.
The wave of support prompted to him to ponder his role as the deputy chief of staff for the Mayor of Long Beach. He ultimately made the decision to leave his job—and dive headfirst into creating a Political Action Committee (PAC) designed to lobby the Electoral College to cast votes for Clinton, despite the way the electors’ constituents may have voted.
So-called “faithless electors” are rare, but not unheard of in U.S. history, and have never changed the outcome of an election.
“It’s unprecedented, but there’s a lot about this election that’s unprecedented,” said Brezenoff, noting the unusual campaign of Donald Trump and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s proposed legislation to abolish the Electoral College, filed Wednesday morning. “It’s not implausible, even if it’s not likely.”
He said he thought it important to talk about the Electoral College, at any rate, even if the PAC isn’t successful in swaying electoral votes. He said he found it troubling that one vote in Wyoming counts three and a half times more than one vote in California, and asserted a large reason the Electoral College was founded was due to James Madison’s wish to preserve the power of states with large populations of slaves who were ineligible to vote—in large part, preserving slavery. His opinion is shared by Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar, as written in an op-ed for TIME.
“If Donald Trump won the popular vote and not the Electoral College, he’d say ‘It’s rigged,’” said Brezenoff.
The petition took root in Brezenoff’s mind the day after he watched the election results from home, generating emotions that ranged from “aghast” to “confounded,” to “dismayed” and “occasionally amused.”
“I was very concerned and worried for my country,” he said. “I was very concerned and worried for my friends who are immigrants. I was very concerned for my friends who are Muslims. But I’ve always been an activist.”
He said he spoke with his wife the day after the election, wondering aloud if anyone had started a petition to change electoral votes.
“I used to teach American History,” said Brezenoff, who is also a licensed social worker and attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University at Albany, State University of New York. “I know about the Electoral College. And I knew it was the only constitutional means stopping Donald Trump from taking office.”
He said when he posted it that night, about 600 people had signed on, and he had considered joining the only other petition out there looking to accomplish the same feat, which had around 2,500 signatures at the time.
“In the morning, I said, ‘I guess it’s too late.’” Brezenoff’s petition had gone viral and surpassed the other, similar petition by leaps and bounds overnight.
As the petition blazed a trail throughout the web, Brezenoff said he reached a point where he thought it wise to tell Garcia, as the petition’s popularity was a result of his own private life and not affiliated with his city post.
“That’s me and not him,” he said, adding that Garcia has been and remains supportive of his personal endeavors and pursuit of personal goals.
“I’ve always been supportive of Daniel,” Garcia told the Post on Thursday. “He’s been a member of my team for six years—he’s a talented individual.”
Garcia said that while he has not yet signed the petition, he does support Electoral College reform. “I’ve always believed in one person, one vote,” he said. “As a Californian, I’m not crazy about the fact that my vote isn’t the same as those in other states. We have Daniel’s petition, and a conversation around it, and I think it’s great.”
On Sunday, Brezenoff said he spoke at length with friends and advisors, agreeing that he should not let the petition and support “fizzle out.”
Brezenoff will be moving residences soon, in response to the threats of violence he has received through his involvement in the petition, saying he is disgusted by Trump supporters who claim to love the Constitution but don’t want to him exercise his freedom of speech.
“This is the electoral process we have, and it’s totally within my rights,” he said.
In the meantime, Brezenoff’s working with a group of local politicians and leaders to create the proposed PAC—though he had yet to discuss when his collaborators will be revealed.
“We’re in the process of raising money for an organization to fight that fight,” he said.
The group has been busy working—managing the response of the public, researching members of the Electoral College and identifying electors who would be “most apt” to vote for Clinton, as Brezenoff described it. Such willingness to skirt the vote of one’s constituency is legal in 21 states, and the Constitution, as the petition notes, says electors get the final say in how they vote.
And, as for the people who maintain it’s time to accept the loss of Clinton and move on, Brezenoff said he feels more than justified in preventing Trump from taking office, and that his tactics aren’t about being a sore loser, but rather preventing a dangerous man from assuming office.
“Mr. Trump has made his plans and intent very clear throughout the campaign,” said Brezenoff. “He is appointing white supremacists and extreme reactionaries—people on the fringe of politics who have been aggressive pushing their agenda. People who say move on, or stop crying—they think they are on the winning team.”
However, to Brezenoff, no one is on the winning team.
“He’s willing to mock people based on their gender or disability,” said Brezenoff. “He doesn’t understand how this [the presidency] works. People are in fear of their safety and dignity. That’s very real, and we’re going to do everything we can to oppose him.”
This report was updated on 11/17/2016 at 1:59PM with information from Mayor Robert Garcia.