The 2016 presidential election was arguably one of the most divisive in U.S. history and since election day the topic of “Faithless Electors” has been raging in the media. Those outside the U.S. often struggle to understand the concept of the Faithless Elector, indeed the entire Electoral College system is a bizarre one, and perhaps unique to U.S. democracy. The Federal Archive explains that in America voters in the presidential election cast their votes to elect members of the Electoral College. Theoretically, Electoral College members are loyal members of whichever party wins the vote in their state.
“The winning Presidential candidate’s slate of potential Electors are appointed as the state’s Electors — except in Nebraska and Maine, which have proportional distribution of the Electors.”
In effect, this means that nominated Electors will select the next president at the Electoral College vote, due to take place next week on December 19. Bustle explains that there are a total of 538 Electoral College Electors.
In normal circumstances, those Electors simply cast their votes according to their parties wishes. This means that a presidential candidate who achieves 270 Electoral College votes becomes the president.
So, What Is The Definition Of A “Faithless Elector”?
Fair Vote provides us with a definition of a Faithless Elector, explaining that they are members of the Electoral College who vote against their parties wishes.
“‘Faithless Electors’ are members of the Electoral College who, for whatever reason, do not vote for their parties designated candidate.”
“Since the founding of the Electoral College, there have been 157 faithless electors. 71 of these votes were changed because the original candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College cast its votes. Three of the votes were not cast at all as three electors chose to abstain from casting their electoral vote for any candidate. The other 82 electoral votes were changed on the personal initiative of the elector.”
The 2016 presidential election has taken place against a backdrop of fake news stories, claims of vote rigging, allegations of Russian interference in the election, and the specter of Faithless Electors. On election night, President-elect Donald Trump won 306 Electoral College votes and in normal circumstances, his road to the White House would be a formality.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, some Electoral College members have indicated that they will not vote for Donald Trump.
So, What Happens If The Electoral College Fail To Confirm Trump As President?
It is possible, at least in theory, that the Electoral College could overturn the presidential election result. Electoral College members are not legally obliged to vote for their party’s candidate. That said, the Supreme Court has held that the U.S. Constitution does not require that Electors be completely free to act according to their own wishes.
Political parties may extract pledges from Electors to vote for the parties’ nominees. Some state laws provide that Faithless Electors may be fined or may be disqualified for casting an invalid vote and be replaced by a substitute Elector.
Some Electoral College members have stated an intention to vote as a Faithless Elector. For the presidential election result to be overturned, in favor of Hillary Clinton, a total of 38 Faithless Electors would have to vote for Clinton instead of Trump. Even if 38 Electoral College members refused to endorse Donald Trump they would be more likely to switch their vote to Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence.
The Huffington Post is urging Electoral College members to “Dump Trump” by electing “any Republican whose name is not Donald Trump.” They claim that “Russia stole the presidency” and that Electoral College members can “take it back.” They even suggest that Hillary Clinton should urge her Electors to get behind an alternate Republican candidate to stop Trump going to the White House.
It must be said that a Faithless Elector revolt on the scale needed to overturn Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election is extremely unlikely. It is now widely accepted that Hillary Clinton polled more votes than Trump, but the Electoral College system makes that irrelevant.
Faithless Electors do have the power to overturn the election result but the chances of them doing so are remote.
[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]