Supreme Court unanimously rules “faithless elector” laws are constitutional

By Connor Ciecko

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a unanimous decision to require electoral college members to vote for the presidential candidate that wins their state or to be open to reprimands from their state. The decision upholds state laws that punish “faithless electors” as constitutional.

The Electoral College is a voting body of 538 members that ultimately decides which presidential candidate wins the election. In the presidential election, voters choose which party’s electors will cast the final vote, rather than for the candidate themselves. The vote normally occurs on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, almost a month and a half after the popular election.

While most Electoral College electors do cast their vote for the winner of the state popular vote, there have been instances in history of electors refusing to cast a vote or casting a vote for a third party candidate. This occurred most recently in 2016 when a handful of democratic electors voted for a third party candidate instead of Hillary Clinton.

The court case, Chiafalo V. State of Washington, was brought before the court by elector Peter Bret Chiafalo, who argued that the $1,000 fine imposed on those electors was unconstitutional as the 12th amendment does not explicitly say that electors must vote for the winner of the popular election. The Washington State Supreme court voted in 2019 that such a law and reprimand is constitutional.

This ruling was upheld in the U.S Supreme Court in a 9-0 vote. Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion, stating, “the Constitution’s text and the Nation’s history both support allowing a State to enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee—and the state voters’ choice—for President.”

The court ruling does not make a sweeping change to the electoral college; the ruling does not require that electors vote for the winner of the popular vote, only that states may impose legal sanctions to electors who do not.

There are currently 32 states with “faithless elector” laws.

Photo by Mark Thomas