Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I object to the term "faithless electors"

Eddie Awad shared the page Timeline of U.S. Presidential Elections, which shows the electoral votes for candidates throughout history. You only have to go to the last election (2004) to find a particular anomaly about U.S. elections:

The split vote in Minnesota denotes a faithless elector's vote counted for John Edwards.

This follows up on something I wrote previously:

Perhaps you've heard that we're getting ready to hold a Presidential election in a few weeks....We are going to vote in a few weeks, but we will not be selecting a President at that time. We will be selecting electors, who will then report to the Electoral College (in December, I think), trash some dorms, and hold the formal election as described by our Constitution. Which is one way of saying that your vote means nothing.

Here are the relevant portions of the U.S. Constitution:

Article II

Section 1. The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected, as follows:

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector....

The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.

I skipped a portion of Article II because it was superseded by the Twelfth Amendment (and unfortunately I don't have time to go into all the sordid details surrounding that little episode):

Amendment 12
Presidential elections

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;--The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;--The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. [And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.]* The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

June 15, 1804.
Superseded by Section 3 of the Twentieth Amendment.

I'll skip the 20th amendment for now, because the text above pretty much indicates the relevant portion of the procedure. Basically, the Constitution is silent on the way that Electors are to be chosen, or what they are supposed to do.

However, there's a popular expectation in the 21st century that electors are supposed to vote for the popular election winner in their state. They often don't:

"Faithless Electors" are members of the Electoral College who, for whatever reason, do not vote for their party's designated candidate.

Since the founding of the Electoral College, there have been 156 faithless Electors [as of 2000; as noted above, there was another "faithless elector" in 2004]. 71 of these votes were changed because the original candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College cast their 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.

Examples of so-called "faithless" votes include:

  • A 1988 vote for Lloyd Bentsen (who was running for Vice President, not President

  • A 1976 vote for Ronald Reagan (who did not get the Republican nomination that year)

  • A 1972 vote for John Hospers (the Libertarian candidate)

  • A 1960 vote for Harry Byrd
With the way this election is going, I wonder how the Electors will choose to vote this year. Will Biden and/or Palin get votes for President? What about Ralph Nader? Colin Powell?

The important thing is that the Electors have the Constitutional right to do anything that they want. And unless the Constitution gets amended, that right will continue.

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