There’s a concern with the Electoral College besides how votes are allocated among states (population or by number of senators and congressmen). It’s faithless electors or ones who vote for someone for whom they’re not pledged. It probably won’t happen, but could. So, our Legislature should plug the loophole.
Here’s the scoop.
We vote for electors who vote on our behalf in the Electoral College, even though we don’t see their names on the ballot. Then, the victor’s slate of electors meets, where they vote an open ballot for president and vice president. Those votes are sent to the West Virginia secretary of state, the National Archives and the current president of the U.S. Senate (the vice president).
On Jan. 6, the vice president, as Senate president, presides over a joint session of Congress to read aloud the certificates cast by the electors. If no member of Congress objects, the Senate president certifies the election, and the candidates are sworn into office on Jan. 20.
The weak point in this chain is that electors may vote for anyone.
Historically, it’s not an issue. Through 2016, 23,529 electors have cast votes. Of those, 165 (0.7%) have been faithless.
In 1872, 63 Democrat electors voted for someone other than Horace Greely. That was because Greely died after the election but before the electoral vote.
In 1912, eight Republican electors did similarly when vice presidential nominee James S. Sherman died. That leaves 94 true “faithless electors” (0.4%).
The 2016 presidential election was the first time in over 100 years in which 10 electors voted or attempted to vote against their pledge. These Democrats were committed to Hillary Clinton but faced certain defeat. So, to encourage other Republicans to abandon Donald Trump, they voted for Republican alternatives. They fell woefully short.
It’s not unexpected if you know who electors are. They’re not random folks. Rather, each party chooses their electors, usually party stalwarts. Here are West Virginia’s electors over the past three cycles in which Republicans won:
2012: David Tyson, former West Virginia Republican state chairman (1997-2003); the late Mick Staton, former 3rd District Republican congressman; Sarah Minear, former Republican state senator (1987-2007); John F. McCuskey, former Republican delegate (1972-1982), commissioner of finance and administration under Republican Gov. Arch Moore (1985-1988), and Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals appointed by Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood in 1998; and Betty Ireland, former West Virginia secretary of state (Republican) 2005-2009.
2016: Patrick Morrisey, Republican West Virginia attorney general (2012 to date); Mac Warner, Republican secretary of state (2016 to date); Bill Cole, 2016 Republican nominee for governor, House of Delegates member (2010-2011), state senator (2013-2017), and Senate president (2015-2017); Ann Urling, Republican candidate for West Virginia treasurer (2016); and Ron Foster, Republican member of the Putnam County Commission (2016 to date).
2020: Jim Justice, Republican governor of West Virginia; Lewis Rexroad, member and former vice chair of the Wood County Republican executive committee, member of Republican state executive committee, and delegate to the 2020 Republican National Convention; Beth Bloch, Republican National Convention committeewoman for West Virginia; Paul Hartling, chairman of Putnam County Republican executive committee and chairman of the state GOP county chairs committee (2011 to present); and Republican activist Gary Duncan.
I don’t see any of them as faithless electors.
Nonetheless, it happens.
In 1988, Democrat Margarette Leach cast her vote for Democratic Party vice-presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen as president, and Mike Dukakis as vice president, to draw attention to the elector’s freedom in voting.
The only other time we had a faithless elector was 1916, when an elector voted for Woodrow Wilson, instead of Charles E. Hughes, who won the West Virginia popular vote.
Some states have passed laws requiring electors to vote for their winners, and those laws were upheld unanimously by the U.S. Supreme Court in July.
So, while faithless electors are very rare, our Legislature should join 33 other states and the District of Columbia in requiring electors to vote for the popular-vote winner — especially now that it will be upheld.