If The Supreme Court Lets The Electoral College Vote However It Wants, Will Chaos Ensue?
Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that contested the state laws that oblige electoral college voters to vote for the presidential candidate they want to support. The case was brought up in response to four 2016 voters - three from Washington and one from Colorado - who tried to vote against their state's election winner and were fined in Washington's case for failing to honor their pledges had broken.
These so-called "unfaithful voters" have long been a feature of the American presidential election, but it is possible that the Supreme Court will shake up the electoral college system and impose state laws that try to guarantee voters' votes by replacing or punishing them who do this is not as promised. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the general lack of enforcement of voters' promise to vote for their state's winner worried her and said, "I promised to do something, but this promise is unenforceable." But Justice Samuel Alito said that repealing state laws "could lead to chaos if the referendum is near".
That's true. In a system where a tight national referendum can lead to a narrow but different outcome from the electoral college, a handful of voters who refuse to keep their promises could actually sow chaos. The electoral college and its election of George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016 are already controversial - neither of them won the referendum. The addition of a few unfaithful voters who could reverse the election result could pose a significant threat to the continued legitimacy of the electoral college. However, the history of the presidential election is not littered with unfaithful voters.
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In fact, during the 20th century presidential election, only 15 voters broke their promise and voted for someone other than their party's candidate.1 This means that there was, on average, fewer than one unfaithful voter per election and none of them you changed the course of an election. This trend continued in the 21st century, with only one unfaithful voter in the 2000 presidential election and one in 2004; However, there was a sharp increase in the 2016 presidential election. Ten voters from six different states have tried to break their ranks.2 That is still not enough to change the outcome of the 2016 elections, but it is still a significant increase in the number of failures.
Perhaps this is a sign that something has changed in our era of non-partisan politics and that unfaithful voters are becoming more common. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton and Trump faced long, protracted nomination battles 3, and they were the two most unpopular nominees in modern history. These factors alone could have fueled some of the steps taken by unfaithful voters in 2016.
However, let's say the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the 2016 voters and says that unfaithful voters cannot be punished. Would chaos arise?
First, not every state has laws to bind electoral college voters to their commitments. In fact, in 2016, only 29 states and the District of Columbia had any kind of rule on the books. The rules are also inconsistent. A penalty is imposed in some states, such as Washington, and all unfaithful voters have been fined $ 1,000. And in other states like Michigan, the votes of unfaithful voters are not counted; Instead, these voters will be replaced by someone who will vote for the candidate. This provision obviously has more teeth, but here too many states have no such provisions at all, and yet there are not countless unfaithful voters.
And that may be because the contracting states are already selecting activists who are likely to remain loyal to their presidential candidate. Therefore, voters are motivated to vote as directed, even without law to punish or remove them if they do not. But the national parties are not powerless in this process. In particular, the Democratic National Committee stepped up its efforts to fend off unfaithful voters after 2016 and added a new requirement to its convention rules that the selection plans of the contracting states will include not only their selection procedures but also the steps of the state to ensure that these voters are responsible for the democratic Candidates vote. These measures, like the rest of the delegate selection process, had to be approved by the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Statutes Committee as part of the delegate selection plan.
The voter selection process still varies from state to state, but ultimately it is fairly centralized among the party, which helps loyal voters to be selected. In states like Florida and Pennsylvania, for example, the presidential candidate and his election campaign elect democratic voters. And in states with smaller electoral college delegations such as Oregon and Utah, state party officials such as the state party chair, the vice chair, and the treasurer automatically act as voters from those states. However, there are a number of countries where the election selection process is somewhat more free. And perhaps not surprisingly, it was the states that chose their voters with more decentralized means that had treacherous voters in 2016.
The six states in which a voter attempted to cast an unfaithful vote in 2016 - Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington - selected all voters according to congressional district and state conventions that do not have as much control as other selection methods and can be from Followers of candidates other than the future candidate are dominated. And unlike the selection process for delegates to the Democratic Convention, the selection process does not give the candidate the right to screen the voters. 4
In Washington, where the problem of unfaithful voters was most acute in 2016 - there were four defectors - the State Democrats made the process for 2020 much more central and shifted the selection process from the conventions of the state and congressional district to the state's central committee . However, 17 contracting states will continue to elect voters through conventions in 2020, with 154 voters at stake. And only seven of these 17 states (worth 53 voters) voted for democratic in 2016.5 So it is possible that if there are enough defects and the vote is scarce, it could be important.
However, only a few voters who are elected in this way are actually unfaithful. Few voters are loyal, period. It is true we do not know whether a change in the standards for unfaithful voters signaled in 2016 and whether we will therefore see more defects in 2020. But the bottom line is that even if the Supreme Court would overturn state-level laws, chaos is unlikely to break out. The guidelines set by the parties to ensure that most voters are loyal serve as a setback.
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