Presidential Campaign

Unease in the Electoral College

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This past week, Americans were reminded that the Electoral College consists of actual people when a Republican elector from Georgia, Baoky Vu, claimed he would not vote for Donald Trump if he won the state.

This raised many eyebrows and brought attention to a little understood institution. Having studied presidential electors for over a decade, I suspect Vu is not the only elector feeling unease about his or her presidential ticket.

{mosads}One of the original intentions of the Electoral College was to have a body of experts who were knowledgeable about the candidates and would cast their vote based upon merit. Over time, however, presidential electors have been chosen due to their commitment to their respective parties and the likeliness they will be loyal to their party’s ticket. Today, it is expected that electors will not exercise their judgment and instead simply rubber stamp the results from the November election.  

Vu stated he was going to assert his independence because of his disdain for Trump’s tactics and temperament. He wrote: “Donald Trump’s antics and asinine behavior has cemented my belief that he lacks the judgment, temperament and gravitas to lead this Nation.” His comments created a firestorm and he resigned his post within 24 hours.

My research indicates that electors appreciate their independence to vote for the candidate of their choice. This is true in spite of the fact that just over half of the states require pledges of their electors.

In fact, only 17 percent of electors in 2012 supported an amendment to tabulate votes automatically. My studies have revealed intense lobbying campaigns to get electors to change their votes. Fifty percent of electors in 2012 were contacted to change their votes. This all suggests that many (including electors) still see members of the Electoral College as having free will.

Electors take their constitutional responsibilities very seriously. Many believe they are the last check in the system of checks and balances in the presidential election process and if a circumstance were to arise that would compel them to break with their party’s ticket they would be able to do so.  

In this election, I predict quite a few electors will be testing their consciences when they assemble this December. My research has uncovered a surprisingly large number of electors who consider casting faithless votes.

For instance, in 2012, 20 percent of Republican electors gave some consideration to defecting from Mitt Romney. While Romney was not a favorite among many grassroots Republicans, he did not invoke the same type of antipathy among the Republican faithful that Trump has.

Many electors are strong party members, but may not support their party’s nominee (like Vu). I found strong correlations to this in my research. Most often, these wavering electors had much lower evaluations of their party’s nominee than did their more committed counterparts. This finding is relevant given the current status of the presidential election. 

Donald Trump has rocked the political establishment, undertaken an unconventional campaign, sparred with both “friend” and foe, and has created quite a ruckus over the past year. Elsewhere, I have suggested that his bombastic style in the Republican primaries may come back to haunt him in the general election. It is very likely supporters of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz will be members of the Electoral College. These individuals will undoubtedly have reservations about voting for Trump.

It is no secret Trump has not been the darling of the Republican Party establishment. He was able to take advantage of a very strong anti-establishment fervor throughout the Republican primaries. Far from working to unify the party coming out of the Republican national convention, it would appear that Trump is further away from the likes of Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus than he was prior to the Convention.

Trump’s actions over the past week have been particularly troubling for those looking to unite the party. He has withheld endorsements for Paul Ryan and John McCain, shown poor judgment in his handling of Khizr Khan’s attack on him at the DNC, upset many veterans by displaying a purple heart he did not earn, and even threw a baby out of one of his rallies.

The election is still three months away and a great deal can happen in that time. If the Trump Train continues to go off the rails, it would be surprising if more Republican electors didn’t share Vu’s sentiments and we witness more unease among Electoral College members.  

Robert Alexander is Professor of Political Science at Ohio Northern University and author of “Presidential Electors and the Electoral College: An Examination of Lobbying, Wavering Electors, and Campaigns for Faithless Votes.” 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


Tags 2016 presidential election Donald Trump Electoral College John McCain Marco Rubio Paul Ryan Ted Cruz

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