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Rutgers professor discusses potential for faithless electors in 2020 presidential election

John Farmer, the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, said there have been very few faithless electors in American history and doubts that they will play a major role in the 2020 election. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

John Farmer, the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, discussed whether the Electoral College’s vote on Dec. 14 could have a significant effect on the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

Farmer said in order to understand the potential harm that faithless electors could cause to the results of a presidential election, people should understand the process of electing a president according to the Constitution.

“The United States is not a ‘pure’ democracy, but a democratic republic,” he said. “Our founders were suspicious of concentrations of power, and government by sheer popular vote raised, for them, the specter of the tyranny of the majority and the prospect of the trampling of individual and states' rights.”

The Constitution established the Electoral College for selecting the president and gave state legislatures the responsibility of selecting the electors, Farmer said. Each state receives a number of electors equal to its number of House representatives, plus two electors for its number of senators.

The parties in each state select the slates of electors, and in all states except for Maine and Nebraska, the slate of the ticket that wins the statewide popular vote is appointed as the state’s electors, he said. The electors are expected to cast all of their electoral votes for the winner of the statewide vote. 

“Nothing in the Constitution requires the individual electors to be faithful to this scheme, but 30 states have enacted statutes requiring electors to be faithful to the results of the popular election, and the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision from earlier this year, upheld the validity of statutes that impose sanctions on faithless electors,” Farmer said.

The court held these sanctions as valid because the Constitution authorizes the states to appoint electors in a manner directed by state legislatures, he said. 

Farmer said there have been few faithless electors in American history. Approximately 165 electors have deviated from their party’s nominee, and they have never decided a presidential election, according to the FairVote website.

He said he doubts faithless electors will play a major role in the 2020 election, assuming President-elect Joe Biden retains his projected margin of 306 electoral votes.

“Perhaps for that reason, the (President Donald J.)Trump campaign's strategy in not conceding the results has focused first on upending the results in battleground states by filing legal challenges to the ballot count based on alleged fraud or to the counting process itself,” Farmer said. “Such claims are common in close elections, but those lawsuits have to date uniformly failed in 2020.”

He said the president’s meeting on Friday with the Republican leaders of Michigan’s legislature seems to indicate that efforts are being directed toward persuading state legislatures to accept without proper evidence that the popular vote results were fraudulent and to appoint the Republican slate to the Electoral College, despite Biden’s popular vote margin of more than 150,000. 

“One of those Michigan leaders has already announced that he would not support such a move — let us hope that he stands firm,” Farmer said. “To accept the claim that the popular vote count does not reflect the will of the people, when that claim has proven baseless in every legal challenge brought by the Trump campaign in every battleground state, would be to usurp the very foundation of our government.”


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