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  • Thomas Rose

What are Faithless Electors and How Could They Affect the 2024 election?

When the founding fathers were devising the controversial Electoral College system, it was created with this arguably elitist idea of protecting America from itself. Alexander Hamilton wrote famously that Americans might be "forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force" to elect a proper government. These federalist ideas inspired the drafters of the Constitution to try and prevent a so-called 'tyranny of the majority' from taking place in the executive branch while (trying to) prevent an equally problematic oligarchic system where Congress appoints a president. The Electoral College was their compromise between these two supposed evils, seen as the best way for the (mostly) rural and uneducated 1700s USA to pick a president.


When you vote during the 2024 presidential election, your vote does not go towards the president's election. Instead, your vote will decide who your state's electors will vote for in the actual selection of the president, which takes place in mid-December. Most states have a winner-take-all system, where every elector will vote for the candidate that received the majority of the state's votes, even if they only won by a small margin. States get more or less votes based on their population, with the minimum being 3 (Vermont and Maine) and the maximum belonging to California, which has 54 votes. The benchmark to win is 270 votes; the candidate that wins 270 or greater becomes the president.


The amount of votes a state gets changes with the US census each year as states gain and lose population. Pictured above is the 2020 electoral map, showing how the Electoral College works. Source: 270towin.com


The Electoral College system has a lesser-known mechanic, which has inspired many calls to abolish it entirely. It turns out that when a state's electors are called to vote, they do not have to vote for who won their state; they can vote for whoever they like. These electors, who choose to disobey their state's vote, are called Faithless Electors, and they are allowed to act this way for the same reason the Electoral College exists: to supposedly 'protect Americans from themselves' when they try to elect an incompetent leader.

Faithless electors have never completely flipped an election and, as such, were a lesser-known part of the electoral process. In 2016, though, they would gain national attention.


The 2016 election would have the largest number of faithless electors since the 1896 election, causing many states to introduce laws that prosecute faithless electors. Source: Wikipedia


In 2016, there were a myriad of criticisms of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump levied by other politicians and mass media; the controversies surrounding both of them led to a massive wave of faithless electors, with electors betraying both Clinton and Trump to vote for a staggering number of alternate candidates, including former defense secretary Colin Powell and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. While these electors did not ultimately decide the fate of the election, they were seen as a 'canary in the coal mine,' signaling the growing frustration of Americans with the two-party system and shocking the political scene of the US.


On the contrary, however, there were no faithless electors in 2020, which can be attributed to a wave of state laws created after 2016 to punish them with fines and/or throw out their votes. However, a relatively small amount of states passed these laws, and there is a possibility they could influence the election in 2024.


There has been significant media coverage of both Joe Biden's supposed problems with his mental faculties and Donald Trump's claims of 'exacting revenge' upon political rivals, something that became taken more seriously after January 6th. These factors could potentially inspire a new wave of faithless electors like those we saw 8 years ago, and now you know why and how that can happen.



(cover photo from CNN Politics)

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