In a landmark decision, the US Supreme Court has granted states the power to enforce the electoral college by punishing electors who defy the will of voters. The decision comes in the wake of the 2016 election, where both candidates had electors refuse to vote for them despite winning their states’ popular votes. The ruling re-affirms the right of state governments to administer penalties to electors who vote against the results of a state’s popular vote.
The electoral college is a system designed to ensure equal voting power across the country in national elections. In a presidential election, winning a state’s popular vote is only the first step. Next, the results go to the electoral college, where appointed electors cast the vote that will ultimately count toward victory. The candidate to receive more than 270 electoral votes is then named the winner.
Generally, electors pledge to cast their votes according to who the people of their state voted for. However, the 2016 election saw an unusually high number of “faithless electors” who voted for a different candidate than the one selected by voters.
In 2016, President Trump lost two electoral votes to faithless electors in Texas. One cast a vote for Ohio Governor Jon Kasich, while the other voted for former Representative Ron Paul, according to Washington Times.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton lost five votes to faithless electors in 2016. Three electors in Washington opted instead to back former Secretary of State Colin Powell, while a fourth cast a vote for activist Faith Spotted Eagle. Clinton also lost an electoral vote in Hawaii to Senator Bernie Sanders, her opponent in the Democratic primary.
These seven faithless electors represent the highest number in a presidential election since 1872, reports the Washington Times.
An Appeal From a Faithless Elector
The Supreme Court’s ruling follows the case of Michael Baca, a Colorado elector who was removed from the position for casting a vote for Republican John Kasich, even though Clinton had won the popular vote. Baca appealed his dismissal, and the case gradually worked its way up to the Supreme Court.
However, the court’s ultimate decision upholds the right of states to punish faithless electors with penalties including fines, criminal charges and jail time.
“The Constitution’s text and the nation’s history both support allowing a state to enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee — and the state voter’s choice — for president,” Justice Elena Kagen said in a statement for the court.
Currently, FairVote reports that 32 states require electors to vote for a pledged candidate. Of these, 13 provide for the cancellation of a faithless vote and the dismissal of the elector, while five carry stiffer penalties of fines and criminal charges.