MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the Electoral College.
When we head to the polls to vote for a president, most of us don’t think about the fact that we’re actually casting a ballot for a set of electors. They’re the ones who belong to an organized body of people charged with voting on our behalf. These people officially confirm the next president.
NICK EICHER, HOST: These days, that process is mostly ceremonial. But what happens when an elector goes rogue and votes for a surprise candidate? We’ve seen so-called faithless electors before. But this is the first time a federal court has weighed in on the issue.
WORLD Radio’s Anna Johansen has our story.
ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: In 2016, a majority of Colorado voters chose Hilary Clinton for president. According to state law, that meant Clinton would receive all nine of Colorado’s electoral votes. But when the state’s electors gathered to cast their ballots…
AUDIO: We have received eight votes for Hilary Clinton for president, and one ballot which cannot be received.
That’s from ABC affiliate Denver 7. Colorado elector Michael Baca had written in John Kasich’s name instead of Clinton’s. Colorado’s secretary of state said that was illegal. He scrapped Baca’s vote, and replaced him with an elector who would cast a ballot for Clinton.
Baca appealed that decision. Two weeks ago, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the secretary of state was wrong and Baca had every right to vote for the candidate of his choice. The court said that when an elector casts a ballot, it’s a federal function and states don’t have authority over that.
ENGLAND: It’s actually not that surprising.
Trent England works with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
ENGLAND: Presidential electors are actually elected officials. And because they’re elected officials, they have to have the power to decide how they’re going to cast their vote.
Some fear the court’s ruling will lead to more electors voting independently—even banding together to impact an election.
England acknowledges that it’s uncomfortable to think about electors voting unpredictably. But he also notes Michael Baca isn’t the first faithless elector. There have been more than 150 since the start of the electoral college and none of them have changed the outcome of an election.
ENGLAND: It’s always people who just want to send a message, they’re frustrated about something or protesting, but they’re not actually changing election outcomes.
Others say the ruling would undercut the National Popular Vote interstate compact. That’s the movement among some Democratic-led states to sidestep the electoral college. If that plan takes effect, states would give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. With the court’s decision, though, electors would be free to disregard orders from state leaders.
But England says none of those concerns are likely to happen.
ENGLAND: I think that it may actually lead to the exact opposite outcome, which is electors being even more predictable. Political parties are going to vet their electoral nominees even better. And they’re going to probably emphasize the oaths they have electors take to promise to their party and to their state to vote for the party’s nominee.
Not everyone agrees with that. In May, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against a group of electors and fined them $1,000 for refusing to vote for the winner of that state’s popular vote. That means we probably haven’t heard the last of this case.
ENGLAND: The Supreme Court is always more likely to take up a case when you have courts in disagreement. So here with the Washington State Supreme Court and the 10th Circuit coming to opposite conclusions, it does make it somewhat likely that this could actually go before the Supreme Court.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen.