The Electoral College system is a unique institution. Americans don’t vote for a presidential candidate. They vote for electors who then go to the Electoral College and vote for a president in their place. Normally the Electoral College election is a formality, but this year at least two electors have indicated that they may not vote for their party’s candidate. Two electors from party base states, one from Texas and the other from Washington, have threatened to go their own way due to their displeasure with their respective party nominees.
Chris Suprun, a firefighter from Texas who is a Republican elector, told Politico in August that he may not vote for Donald Trump, assuming that Trump wins Texas, because the candidate was “saying things that in an otherwise typical election year would have you disqualified.” In particular, Suprun took issue with Trump’s foreign policy, characterizing it as “The generals are going to commit war crimes because I tell them to.”
“I’m still amazed he made it through the process,” Suprun said. “I’m not sure who his voters were or how they identify him with what I would consider Republican principles of small government.”
Suprun, who was a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11, said that he ran for a position as an elector with the intention of voting for the party nominee, but had second thoughts because of Trump’s behavior and rhetoric. He also noted that his congressional district is a district that has a Democratic congressman and will not go for Trump.
Robert Satiacum, a Washington State elector, has gone a step further. “She will not get my vote, period,” Satiacum said of Hillary Clinton in the Associated Press on Monday. Satiacum is a member of the Puyallup Tribe and does not believe that Clinton has done enough for Native Americans and that she lied about her private email server.
Satiacum, who was a delegate for Bernie Sanders, told ABC News, “Maybe I’ll vote Mickey Mouse. In all seriousness, maybe I should vote for Bozo the Clown.” In contrast, Chris Suprun indicated that he may vote for Hillary Clinton.
Some states have laws designed to prevent electors from defecting. Washington State law requires electors to pledge that they will vote for their party nominee. A violation is punishable by a $1,000 fine. Texas electors must take an oath to support their party candidate, but there is no penalty. Twenty-nine states have laws that prohibit electors from deviating from the will of the voters according to FairVote.
There have been “faithless electors” in the past. The most recent example of a faithless elector was in 2004 when an elector from Minnesota voted for John Edwards instead of John Kerry. In 1972, CBS News notes, the co-creator of “Little House on the Prairie,” Roger McBride, was an elector for Richard Nixon, but voted instead for the Libertarian candidate. The vote earned several footnotes in political history. It was the only electoral vote ever won by the Libertarian Party and the Libertarian vice-presidential candidate, Tonie Nathan, became the first woman and the first Jew to win an electoral vote. Faithless electors have never changed the outcome of an election.
The defection of electors would mean that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would have to win more than 270 electoral votes to clinch the presidency. Their final decisions may not be known for weeks and may affect the outcome of a close election. Members of the Electoral College meet in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. This year that date falls on December 19. The winner of the election will not be officially declared before then.
With continuing revelations about both Trump’s and Clinton’s pasts, as well as Trump’s penchant for outrageous behavior, the month between the general election and the Electoral College election could see additional electors who find that they cannot support the candidate chosen by the people. It is possible, especially if the general election is close, that the end result of the Electoral College could be different than what the popular vote indicates.
Suprun argues that the Founding Fathers didn’t intend the Electoral College to be a rubber stamp. Electors should “take a look at all the facts, figure it out and make the right call,” he said in Politico.
“I would never say never to anything.”