2016: The Year Of The Faithless Electors?

Donald Trump’s presidency has not even begun, yet it has already been marred by protests, recount efforts, and the growing faithless elector movement.

So far, this year’s faithless electors have all been Democrats in states that Hillary Clinton won. Yet on December 5, the first Republican of the Electoral College went rogue. In a column for the New York Times, Christopher Suprun explained why he will not be casting a vote for Donald Trump two weeks from now when electors from each state convene to make their choice.

Traditionally, each elector simply goes along with their state’s decision. But electors also have the little-known option to become “faithless electors” who outright refuse to vote for the winning candidate. The reasoning behind a faithless vote is taken from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, which argued — among other things — that the Electoral College was established in part to keep unfit, demagogic, or otherwise incompetent candidates out of power, a belief Christopher Suprun reiterates in his column.

“The United States was set up as a republic. Alexander Hamilton provided a blueprint for states’ votes. Federalist 68 argued that an Electoral College should determine if candidates are qualified, not engaged in demagogy, and independent from foreign influence. Mr. Trump shows us again and again that he does not meet these standards. Given his own public statements, it isn’t clear how the Electoral College can ignore these issues, and so it should reject him.”

Suprun goes on to cite the typical reasons given by faithless electors this year: Trump’s business entanglements ranging from the Middle East to Taiwan, his controversial tweets, his divisiveness, as well as the many experts across party lines and affiliations who have denounced Trump as dangerous and incompetent. Groups such as the so-called Hamilton Electors — a small but vocal bloc within the Electoral College — have also expressed dismay at Trump’s win, claiming their job as a “constitutional failsafe” against the unqualified candidates Alexander Hamilton first warned about in 1787.

These sentiments were echoed by Washington’s Levi Guerra, a 19-year-old faithless elector who had once called the President-elect irresponsible, vowing to cast her vote “for an alternate Republican.”

Another faithless elector, Art Sisneros, gave up his Electoral College position to protest Trump’s win, explaining that “Trump is not someone who would rule justly or wisely. His track record shows that he is a man of coveting and self-serving — a liar and a cheat should not hold that position.” In response, the rogue electors are rallying behind Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich, a moderate Republican who lost his party’s nomination to Trump earlier this year by a huge margin.

Yet faithless electors face potential costs for their intransigence. There is a $1,000 fine in some states, and there are laws that technically bind electors to the results of the November 8 election. Given the rarity of faithless electors in American history, however, it is unclear how far states are willing to go to punish voters. Regardless, one group has already promised free legal advice to faithless electors as well as to electors who are thinking of going rogue.

Well before the faithless elector movement, the Electoral College has frequently been under attack. Donald Trump, himself, once called the Electoral College “undemocratic,” yet praised it in November after electors gave Trump the presidency despite an ever-growing loss of the popular vote.

Critics have also pointed out that America’s system of electors is not only opaque, but formally codifies the notion that voting is meaningless. In short, it creates two barriers between the electorate and the president, first by way of the electors, themselves, who give whole states to a candidate instead of the winning fraction, then by potentially acting as faithless electors who ultimately go against this once-removed choice. Supporters point out that the Electoral College gives more power to small states, but detractors insist that it merely entrenches disproportionate representation and makes America’s racial imbalance even worse.

Two out of five presidential elections this century have now gone to the loser of the popular vote, further eroding trust in the Electoral College. Now that faithless electors wish to upend a byzantine system that America already had a tenuous relationship with, perhaps December 19 will mark when such sentiments finally brim.

[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]