Nevada electors legally bound to vote for winning presidential candidate
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — When former state Sen. Terry Care went to the Nevada Legislature in 2013 to lobby for a bill to bind presidential electors to the candidate that receives the most votes, he didn’t consider it to be urgent or a top priority.
Care, representing the national Uniform Law Commission, knew that there had been instances in U.S. history of “faithless” electors who didn’t cast their state’s votes for winning candidates. But efforts to bind electors to state voter preferences, he said, was mostly about aligning voting with how voters think the Electoral College functions, with a state’s share of votes going to the winning candidate.
“It was more of a case of ‘What if?’” he said.
Then-Assemblyman Elliot Anderson remarked casually in a committee hearing that a faithful elector law was “probably a good idea” because, hypothetically, electors voting for candidates other than the winners risked “cataclysmic political crisis that would shake the Constitution to its foundations.”
Ahead of the Dec. 14 electoral college meetings in the states, members of President Donald Trump’s legal team have urged Legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia to appoint alternate electors to compensate for perceived irregularities that they claim, without evidence, would flip the states to Trump’s column.
“What we’re asking for, as our local counsel said in Georgia yesterday, is that the state Legislature take back their authority and they appoint new electors,” Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis said in an interview with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo on Friday.
The efforts have directed new scrutiny to the complexities of the Electoral College and the laws governing it in ways that Care, the Nevada lawmaker-turned-lobbyist, said he couldn’t have imagined in 2013 when the bill garnered bipartisan support.
In total, 32 states have some form of faithful elector law on the books, 15 of which have recourse provisions including penalties, fines or elector replacement. Of those 15, six states, including Nevada, have adopted the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act.
Georgia, Pennsylvania and 16 other states have no faithful elector laws.
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld laws that punish Electoral College delegates who refuse to back the candidate they were pledged to support.
States have wide purview regarding election procedures, but according to the Uniform Law Commission, the authoring organization, a single approach that commits electors to popular will “provides the voters of the state with the confidence that the votes they have cast will be honored when the electoral college meets to decide the outcome of presidential elections.”
The Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act requires electors to pledge to vote for the candidate who received the highest number of votes in the state and directs secretaries of state to replace them with alternates if they violate their pledge.
Testifying in favor of the bill in 2013, state Sen. Pat Spearman said, although the system may have made sense in the 1780s, but warned the prospect of electors voting for candidates other than the winners risked undermining voters’ trust.
“As our presidential elections become more contentious and the margin of the popular vote closes, a faithless elector has the potential to create confusion in the outcome of an election,” she said at a 2013 hearing.
State lawmakers have also passed the bill in Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana and, most recently, Washington, where four state electors didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 although she won the state popular vote.
Until 2019, faithless electors in Washington faced $1,000 fines for voting for candidates other than the winner. State Sen. Patty Kuderer, the bill’s sponsor, said most people assume — and believe — that elector is a ministerial position. The $1,000 fine, she said, wasn’t enough to bind electors to the winning candidates.
Kuderer said after electors attempted to vote against Hillary Clinton in 2016, some of her constituents were confused and angry. Allowing electors to vote for whoever they choose, she said, was “completely antithetical to one person-one vote.”
Although the intent of the bill was to pre-empt faithless elector scenarios, Kuderer said she didn’t anticipate the debate surrounding electors in 2020, when lawyers representing President Donald Trump are advocating for state Legislatures to nominate electors in light of what they say are irregularities in the election process.
“The fact that we have a sitting president that is calling for state Legislatures to override the will of the people in their state and vote for him is abhorrent. It’s immoral and it’s wholly undemocratic,” she said. “We’ve never in our history had a president do that, ever.”
(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)