The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that it is permissible to enforce punitive measures on members of the Electoral College who cast their vote for a candidate who was not their state’s popular vote winner.
The decision comes after the 2016 election when President Donald Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton not by the popular vote, but by the combined votes of the Electoral College. Trump got 304 of their votes while Clinton got 227, but she got about 3 million more popular votes than Trump did.
In that election, 10 members of the Electoral College voted rogue — or voted for a candidate that was not chosen by the citizens of the state, Reuters reported.
According to the court’s assertion, “When Americans cast ballots for presidential candidates, their votes actually go toward selecting members of the Electoral College, whom each State appoints based on the popular returns. The States have devised mechanisms to ensure that the electors they appoint vote for the presidential candidate their citizens have preferred.”
After the 2016 election, when so many electors voted against the popular candidate for their state, Washington fined three electors $1,000 each for voting against the popular vote.
Those three electors, Peter Chiafalo, Levi Guerra, and Esther John fought the fine in state court and won, but Monday’s supreme court decision holds that “A State may enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee—and the state voters’ choice—for President.”
The Decision Means Electoral College Members Will Be Expected to Vote For The Candidate Chosen by The People Of Their State or Face Consequences
According to The Conversation, the debate was “about whether the U.S. still has elements of an elite democracy that cannot be altered by individual states, or if state legislatures can create a popular democracy within their borders by making electors simply registrars of the popular will – even though the constitutional text (and Alexander Hamilton’s plans) may suggest that electors should make their decisions freely.”
Monday’s decision means that electors are expected to vote in line with whatever candidate wins in their state. The supreme court ruling means states “will be allowed to set the future rules for how electors may vote. If enough states bind electors, then the election will proceed as the public expects,” The Conversation reported.
In the 10 cases in 2016 in which members of the Electoral College voted against the popular vote, seven votes went to other candidates besides Trump or Clinton: Colin Powell had three electoral college votes, and Faith Spotted Eagle, John Kasich, Ron Paul, and Bernie Sanders each had one vote, ProCon reported.
The three Washington electors at the heart of the court case who were fined $1,000 voted for Trump over Clinton according to the Supreme Court, who wrote that those electors “violated their pledges to support Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. In response, the State fined the Electors $1,000 apiece for breaking their pledges to support the same candidate its voters had.”
The Electoral College Has Long Been Controversial & Some Say It Should Be Abolished
The Electoral College was established in 1788 by Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which also established the executive branch of the U.S. government. According to ProCon, Article II has seen three revisions in 1804, 1868 and 1961. To abolish the Electoral College would require a Constitutional Amendment.
Other than the 2016 election in which Trump won the presidency due to the Electoral College vote while Clinton won the popular vote, the seat has only been won that way four other times. Three of those times were during the 1800s and the fourth was in 2000 when George W. Bush beat Al Gore.
Even though Trump won the presidency thanks to the Electoral College, he said he thinks the popular vote is the way elections should be won, saying, “I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win,” according to ProCon.
Arguments for the Electoral College are that it “guarantees certainty to the outcome of the presidential election and it ensures that all parts of the country are involved in selecting the President of the United States,” according to ProCon.
Detractors say “the Electoral College gives too much power to swing states and allows the election to be decided by a handful of states. Another complaint is it “ignores the will of the people,” Procon reported.
According to Procon the reasons for the creation of the Electoral College was to “safeguard against uninformed or uneducated voters by putting the final decision in the hands of electors most likely to possess the information necessary to make the best decision; to prevent states with larger populations from having undue influence, and to compromise between electing the president by popular vote and letting Congress choose the president.”