Supreme Court rules electoral college representatives must honor choice of state's voters

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Anxious to avoid chaos in the electoral college just months before the U.S. vote, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that electors who formally select the president can be required by the state they represent to cast their ballot for the candidate who won their state's popular vote.

The justices unanimously rejected the claim that electors have a right under the Constitution to defy their states and vote for the candidate of their choice.

The electoral college system, created by the Founding Fathers, has been criticized as being outdated and unfair to voters. In two of the past five presidential elections, the winner came in second in the national vote, but nonetheless won a combination of states that yielded more electoral votes.

Justice Elena Kagan said the Constitution gives states the power to appoint electors who in turn must abide by the state's rules.

"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," she said.

The dispute before the high court could have injected an additional element of uncertainty into the presidential race.

Last year, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court in Denver surprised election officials when it ruled that the Constitution as written in 1787 assumed the state's electors were free to vote for their favored candidate, and if so, the same is true today.

Constitutional scholars say that although electors may have had an independent vote at the time of the nation's founding, they have been required since the early 1800s to vote in line with the wishes of the party whose presidential candidate won the state's vote.


In nearly every election, there are a handful of "faithless electors" who ignore their commitment and cast a vote different from their state's voters. But these stray votes have been ignored and never made any difference in the outcome.

Most states have laws or rules that require the electors to abide by their pledges and to follow the state's wishes. The Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases on the issue, one from Washington, where the state prevailed, and a second one from Colorado, whose binding rules were overturned.

State election officials feared that if the Supreme Court ruled that electors were free to defy the state, it could trigger enough defections to potentially upset the outcome in a very close race. During the argument in May, several justices said they feared it could create "chaos" in November if electors were not bound by their state or its laws.

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