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Supreme Court weighs letting presidential electors vote freely

View of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

The U.S. Supreme Court grappled with calls to let members of the Electoral College vote as they please, hearing cases that could mark a major change for the body that formally selects the president.

In the last arguments of their first-ever telephone session, the justices on Wednesday considered whether states can remove or penalize so-called faithless electors if they refuse to vote for the presidential candidate who won the statewide vote.

Justice Samuel Alito suggested that giving electors free rein could produce “chaos” in a close election. He asked whether the response of the losing party “would be to launch a massive campaign to try to influence electors, and there would be a long period of uncertainty about who the next president was going to be.”

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Congress has always counted the votes of faithless electors. “It has always accepted the anomalous vote,” she said.

Electors are appointed to the Electoral College only if their party’s candidate wins, and the broad expectation is that they will support that candidate. But in 2016, 10 “faithless electors” voted, or tried to vote, for someone other than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Only nine electors had voted for someone other than their party’s candidate from 1900 to 2012.

About 30 states attempt to bind electors to the winning candidate, though some of those states don’t penalize people who cast deviant votes. The court is hearing cases from Washington and Colorado Wednesday.


© 2020 Bloomberg News

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