SCOTUS Upholds Binding Presidential Electors to the Popular Vote | Beaufort County Now | 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. | beaufort observer, supreme court, uphold binding, presidential electors, popular vote, july 8, 2020

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SCOTUS Upholds Binding Presidential Electors to the Popular Vote

    Chiafalo v. Washington

    Docket: 19-465

    Opinion Date: July 6, 2020

    Judge: Elena Kagan

    Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Election Law

    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. With limited exceptions, states appoint a slate of electors selected by the political party whose candidate has won the state's popular vote. Most states compel electors to pledge to support that party's nominee and remove a "faithless elector" from his position; a few impose a monetary fine on any elector who flouts his pledge. Three Washington electors violated their pledges to support Hillary Clinton in 2016 and were fined $1,000 apiece. The Electors challenged their fines, arguing that the Constitution gives members of the Electoral College the right to vote however they please. The Washington Supreme Court rejected their claims. The Supreme Court affirmed. A state may enforce an elector's pledge to support his party's nominee-and the state voters' choice-for President. Article II, Section 1 gives the states the authority to appoint electors "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." The power to appoint an elector includes the power to condition his appointment, including requiring that electors pledge to cast their Electoral College ballots for the party's presidential nominee. States can demand that an elector actually live up to that pledge, on pain of penalty. Nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits states from taking away presidential electors' voting discretion. Article II's use of the term "electors" and the Twelfth Amendment's requirement that the electors "vote," "by ballot," do not establish that electors must have discretion. From the first elections under the Constitution, states sent electors to the College to vote for pre-selected candidates, rather than to use their own judgment. The electors rapidly settled into that non-discretionary role. Ratified at the start of the 19th century, the Twelfth Amendment acknowledged and facilitated the Electoral College's emergence as a mechanism not for deliberation but for party-line voting.

    Colorado Dept. of State v. Baca

    Docket: 19-518

    Opinion Date: July 6, 2020

    Judge: Per Curiam

    Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Election Law

    Reversing the Tenth Circuit, the Court held that states may impose a sanction on "faithless electors" who pledge to vote for the nominee of their political party in the presidential election and fail to do so. The Court cited its contemporaneous opinion, Chiafalo v. Washington.


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