U.S. Supreme Court restricts ‘electors’ in presidential contests

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to free “electors” in the complex Electoral College system that decides the U.S. presidency from state laws that use penalties to force them to support the candidate who prevails in the state’s popular vote.

The justices unanimously declined to endorse the discretionary power of electors just months before the Nov. 3 presidential election. The justices ruled in favor of Washington state and Colorado, which had imposed penalties on several so-called faithless electors who defied pledges in 2016 to vote for the winner of their states’ popular vote, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

State officials have said faithless electors threaten the integrity of American democracy by subverting the will of the electorate and opening the door to corruption. The plaintiffs said the Constitution requires them to exercise independent judgment to prevent unfit candidates from taking office.

“The Constitution’s text and the nation’s history both support allowing a state to enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party‚Äôs nominee – and the state voters’ choice – for President,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote on behalf of the court.

Under the system set out in the U.S. Constitution in the 18th century, the winner of a presidential election is determined not by amassing a majority in the national popular vote but by securing a majority of electoral votes allotted to the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

In 2016, 10 of the 538 electors cast ballots for someone other then their state’s popular vote winner, an unusually high number that could have changed the outcome of five of the 58 previous U.S. presidential elections.

The justices on Monday upheld a decision by the Washington state Supreme Court that had found the $1,000 fines against three faithless electors to be lawful and did not violate the Constitution’s provisions that spell out the Electoral College process.

The justices also reversed a 2019 ruling by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against Colorado’s cancellation of a faithless elector’s vote. Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate in the Colorado case.

Republican President Donald Trump, who defeated Clinton by a margin of 304 to 227 Electoral College votes despite losing the popular vote nationally by about 3 million votes, is seeking re-election against Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

In the Electoral College vote held weeks after the general election, the electors – typically party loyalists – cast their ballots to formally determine the election’s winner. Colorado and Washington state are among the 48 states – only Maine and Nebraska excepted – with winner-takes-all systems awarding all electors to the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws intended to control how electors vote. Only a handful enforce them with penalties.

The two lead plaintiffs in the cases decided on Monday, Bret Chiafalo and Micheal Baca, were Democratic electors who sought to persuade Republican electors to disregard their pledges and help deny Trump the presidency. They cast their ballots for moderate Republicans and not Clinton even though she won the popular vote in both states.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court takes up presidential Electoral College dispute

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the 2020 race heats up, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear a dispute involving the complex U.S. presidential election system focusing on whether Electoral College electors are free to break their pledges to back the candidate who wins their state’s popular vote, an act that could upend an election.

The Supreme Court will take up appeals in two cases – from Washington state and Colorado – involving electors who decided to vote in the Electoral College process for someone other than Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 even though she won the popular vote in their states.

The justices will determine if such so-called faithless electors have the discretion to cast Electoral College votes as they see fit or whether states can impose restrictions including with penalties. The case is expected to be argued in April and decided by the end of June.

President Donald Trump is seeking re-election on Nov. 3, with a field of Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to challenge him. His administration did not take a side in either case.

“We are glad the Supreme Court has recognized the paramount importance of clearly determining the rules of the road for presidential electors for the upcoming election and all future elections,” said Lawrence Lessig, a lawyer for the faithless electors sanctioned in Washington and Colorado.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said she hopes the justices will let states enforce their laws.

“Unelected and unaccountable presidential electors should not be allowed to decide the presidential election without regard to voters’ choices and state law,” Griswold said.

The dispute involves the U.S. presidential election system set out in the U.S. Constitution in which the winner is determined not by amassing a majority of the national popular vote but by securing a majority of the electoral votes that are allotted to the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Individuals who serve as Electoral College electors – typically party loyalists – cast these votes. All states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, have a winner-takes-all system awarding all electors to the presidential candidate who wins the state’s popular vote.

The number of electors in each state is the sum of its two U.S. senators and its number of members in the House of Representatives, based on population size. The District of Columbia, which is not a state, is allotted three electors.

Typically an overlooked formality, the Electoral College took on greater importance after the 2016 election, when 10 electors cast ballots for someone other than their party’s candidate. That was an unusually high number of faithless electors and could have changed the outcome in five of the 58 prior U.S. presidential elections, according to legal papers in one of the appeals filed at the Supreme Court.

LOSING THE POPULAR VOTE

Trump defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by a margin of 304 to 227 Electoral College votes despite losing the popular vote nationally by about 3 million votes. Faithless electors could change the outcome of presidential elections with thinner Electoral College margins.

Electors pledge to vote for their party’s candidate if that person wins the state’s popular vote. At issue in the cases are laws requiring that electors follow through on those pledges.

While 32 states and the District of Columbia have such laws, a handful enforce them by removing and replacing faithless electors, or in some cases, imposing fines.

The plaintiffs challenged the sanctions, saying they were deprived of their rights under the Constitution’s Article II as well as its 12th Amendment, which spell out the Electoral College process.

In Colorado, one elector, Micheal Baca, was replaced and his vote canceled when he sought to vote for Republican John Kasich, Ohio’s former governor. A federal judge dismissed Baca’s challenge, but the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year revived the suit, concluding that Baca’s constitutional rights were violated.

The Washington state case arose after three faithless electors voted for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, a moderate Republican, instead of Clinton. They each were fined $1,000 for their defiance, which they called the first such penalty in U.S. history. The Washington Supreme Court in 2019 upheld the fines.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. electors expected to officially confirm Trump victory

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a USA Thank You Tour event in Hershey, Pennsylvania, U.S

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Electoral College is expected on Monday to officially select Republican Donald Trump as the next president in a vote that is usually routine but takes place this year amid allegations of Russian hacking to try to influence the election.

At meetings scheduled in every state and the District of Columbia, the institution’s 538 electors, generally chosen by state parties, will cast official ballots for president and vice president.

It is highly unlikely the vote will change the outcome of the Nov. 8 election, which gave the White House to Trump after he won a majority of Electoral College votes. The popular vote went to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to sway the election for Trump has prompted Democrats to urge some electors not to vote as directed by their state’s popular ballot.

The leaked emails disclosed details of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, party infighting and inside criticism about Clinton’s use of a private server to send emails while U.S. secretary of state. The disclosures led to embarrassing media coverage and prompted some party officials to resign.

Trump and his team dismiss intelligence claims of Russian interference, accusing Democrats and their allies of trying to undermine the legitimacy of his election victory.

Russian officials have denied accusations of interfering in the election.

On Sunday, Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, said it was an open question whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia about the emails, an allegation that Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, denied. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators called for a special committee probe of cyber attacks by Russia and other countries.

The number of Electoral College electors equals the number of representatives and senators in Congress, with each state receiving a share roughly proportional to its population size.

When voters go to the polls to cast a ballot for president, they are actually choosing a presidential candidate’s preferred slate for their state.

A candidate must secure 270 votes to win. Trump won 306 electors from 30 states.

The electors convene meetings in each state to cast ballots about six weeks after each presidential election.

If no candidate reaches 270 in the Electoral College, the president is chosen by the U.S. House of Representatives – currently controlled by Republicans.

(Additional reporting by Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)