Possible Effect of “Faithless” Electors in the Final Step of the Election

Article ID: 666649

Released: 16-Dec-2016 1:35 PM EST

Source Newsroom: Northwestern University

Expert Pitch
  • Robert Bennett

  • James Druckman

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law professor Robert Bennett and Northwestern political science professor James Druckman are available to comment on the upcoming Electoral College vote Dec. 19 as pundits focus on the possible effect of “faithless” electors in the final step of electing the next president and vice president.

“It has been a very long time since a campaign to encourage elector faithlessness was actually aimed at turning the apparent Election Day outcome around,” Bennett said.

“That does, however, appear to be the target of the present encouragement of faithlessness. It would, however, require more than 30 faithless votes to upend this year’s apparent outcome. Making the task even more daunting are laws in a majority of the states that either forbid or discourage faithlessness in a variety of ways.”

Robert Bennett, the Nathaniel L. Nathanson Professor of Law and a constitutional law scholar, has written extensively on the Electoral College including “Taming the Electoral College” (Stanford University Press, 2006). He can be reached at r-bennett@law.northwestern.edu. (Please note Professor Bennett is currently in Doha, Qatar, and is more accessible via email.)

More comments from Professor Bennett:

“There have been occasional ‘faithless’ electoral votes in the past, and there is a good deal of talk of such faithlessness in this election year.

“As a formal matter, what we all call Election Day in early November was an election in each state for members of what has come to be called the ‘Electoral College.’

“The formal selection of the new president and, separately, the new vice president will take place Dec. 19 in 51 separate meetings, one in each state and one in the District of Columbia.

“At those meetings, almost all electors have over the years voted ‘faithfully,’ i.e. for the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the party that nominated them for the office of elector.

“It takes a majority of the total number of electors across the country for a decisive Electoral College choice for each of the two offices. That required majority is 270.

Should no candidate obtain the required 270 electoral votes for president, the choice then goes to the House of Representatives -- from up to three candidates with the most electoral votes. In the House, each state delegation gets one vote, and a 26-state majority is required to win. If no vice presidential candidate gets the required 270 votes, the choice then goes to the Senate -- from the top two in the Electoral College voting. A majority of senators is required, and each senator gets one vote.

“In the House, Republicans control a majority of state delegations, so that the selection of Donald Trump would be the likely outcome there. But if the Electoral College or the Senate had chosen Mike Pence as vice president, it is conceivable that Republican members of the House might prefer Pence to Trump. If they held back from voting for Trump beyond inauguration day, Pence as vice president would become acting president unless and until the House made a decisive presidential choice.”

James Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor in the political science department in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and associate director of the University’s Institute for Policy Research. His research focuses on political preference formation and communication. His recent work examines how citizens make political, economic and social decisions in various contexts (e.g., settings with multiple competing messages, online information, deliberation). He also researches the relationship between citizens’ preferences and public policy and how political elites make decisions under varying institutional conditions. He can be reached at druckman@northwestern.edu.


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