Supreme Court Drops the Hammer on Rogue Electors

A unanimous decision was handed down by the Supreme Court on July 6, 2020 when it ruled that states can deny their Electoral College electors the ability to disregard the will of the voters when casting their ballots in presidential elections.

Constitution Holds Firm Against Case

The “faithless elector” case, which originated in Washington state, spurred the decision.

“Nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits States from taking away presidential electors’ voting discretion as Washington does,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote. 


In 2016, several Electoral College representatives voted for people who did not win their states’ popular vote in an attempt to oppose President Trump. During the final vote tally, seven out of 538 electors were successful in choosing someone other than their state’s popular vote winner, the Hill reports

Washington Electors Play Tricky Games

In Washington state, three Democratic electors cast their votes for former Secretary of State Colin Powell instead of Hillary Clinton, hoping that Republican electors would do the same. The three electors were ultimately fined $1,000 each by the state, which then led to them claiming that restricting their Electoral College vote was unconstitutional. 

“Today, the United States Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed the fundamental principle that the vote of the people should matter in choosing the President,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, said in a statement. “If we had not been successful, many observers, including several justices, noted the upcoming elections could have been thrown into ‘chaos.'”


Big Decision Ahead of the 2020 Election

With the 2020 presidential election just a few months away, the Court’s decision will deter electors from going against states’ popular votes. 

The majority of states, currently 32 plus D.C., have laws making their electors abide by the results of the election. However, only 11 states have legislation that allows for the nullifying of faithless electors’ votes or potentially removing them from office. 

“When we launched these cases, we did it because regardless of the outcome, it was critical to resolve this question before it created a constitutional crisis. We have achieved that. Obviously, we don’t believe the Court has interpreted the Constitution correctly. But we are happy that we have achieved our primary objective — this uncertainty has been removed. That is progress,” Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, said.

Lessig is also an activist who represented the electors. 

The Constitution Makes it Clear

Echoing the majority opinion, Kagan wrote that the Constitution‘s framers did not require electors to have autonomy. 

“All that they put down about the electors was what we have said: that the States would appoint them, and that they would meet and cast ballots to send to the Capitol,” Kagan wrote. “Those sparse instructions took no position on how independent from—or how faithful to—party and popular preferences the electors’ votes should be. On that score, the Constitution left much to the future.”

As the 2020 presidential election looms closer, decisions like this one certainly make things more interesting. 

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