What is the law on faithless electors?
The electors who will ultimately cast votes for the President and Vice President are chosen in advance of the general election by political parties. Electors pledge to vote for the candidate from their party if that candidate wins the most votes in the state (or district in the case of Maine and Nebraska). "Faithless electors" are electors who ultimately vote for someone other than for whom they pledged.
Neither the U.S. Constitution nor federal statutes address the concept of "faithless electors." This issue is reserved to the states. A majority of states and the District of Columbia External have laws on the books that require electors to pledge to cast their votes for their parties’ nominees for President and Vice President. Fifteen states have laws that impose sanctions on electors for breaking their pledge to cast their vote for their party's nominee. In July 2020, the United States Supreme Court held that a State may "penalize an elector for breaking his pledge and voting for someone other than the presidential candidate who won his State's popular vote." (Chiafalo v. Washington, No. 19–465, slip op. at 1-2 (July 6, 2020).)
The opinion in Chiafalo provides a detailed background on faithless electors. For further information about faithless electors, researchers can consult these online resources:
- Electoral College Fast Facts, History, Art, and Archives (U.S. House of Representatives)
- Congress and the Case of the Faithless Elector, History, Art, and Archives Blog (U.S. House of Representatives)
- State Laws on Presidential Electors External, National Association of Secretaries of State
- The Electoral College: Faithless Electors External, National Conference of State Legislatures
- Supreme Court Clarifies Rules for Electoral College: States May Restrict Faithless Electors (LSB10515), Congressional Research Service
Many states provide state laws related to elections on the website of their election office. Researchers can find links to state and local election offices using the USA.gov tool, Find My State or Local Election Office Website.
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