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Supreme Court Rules That States Can Punish 'Faithless Electors' Who Violate Electoral Pledge


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The Supreme Court held that state laws which seek to punish presidential electors who break their pledge of support to certain candidates do not violate the constitution. The court ruled against so-called “faithless electors” in a case that stems from three Washington electors who all violated their electoral pledge in 2016.


The court’s decision means that electors must vote the way that the state does in the popular vote, and states can coerce electors to remain committed. Advocates for “faithless electors” argue that Article II and the 12th Amendment protect these actors from retaliation from states.

“Nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits States from taking away presidential electors’ voting discretion as Washington does. Article II includes only the instruction to each State to appoint electors, and the Twelfth Amendment only sets out the electors’ voting procedures. And while two contemporaneous State Constitutions incorporated language calling for the exercise of elector discretion, no language of that kind made it into the Federal Constitution. Contrary to the Electors’ argument, Article II’s use of the term “electors” and the Twelfth Amendment’s requirement that the electors “vote,” and that they do so “by ballot,” do not establish that electors must have discretion,” the justices wrote in the opinion’s opening.:snip:

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 Supreme Court’s ‘Faithless Electors’ Decision Safeguards Electoral College

In a decision issued Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that states can punish presidential electors who break their pledge to support the presidential candidate preferred by the citizens of their states. 

The ruling affirms the Electoral College as an important part of our constitutional structure—one that balances popular sovereignty with the benefits of a federal system in which state governments play a vital role.

Every four years, Americans cast votes for their preferred presidential candidate. But what voters in 48 states are actually selecting is a slate of electors who have pledged to vote, as members of the Electoral College, for the candidate who wins a majority of their state’s popular vote. (Maine and Nebraska employ a slightly more complex allocation system based on the winner of the popular vote and congressional districts). 

While we all vote in November, the electors meet in state capitols in December to cast their votes.:snip:

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