The Supreme Court on the workings of the Electoral College

The Story:

The US Supreme Court, on Monday, July 6, resolved uncertainty about the mechanics of the electoral college system by which Presidential contests are decided in this country. The decision is important because, on the one hand, as the 2016 result demonstrated, the electoral college arithmetic can differ decisively from that of the popular vote. Reform may be appropriate. On the other hand, though, the proper direction for reform likely should not be the addition of capriciousness.


Formally, when one votes for President in November, one will actually be voting for one or another of a slate of “electors” who will get together the following month to cast their own ballots. Voting for Donald Trump, for example, means voting for electors who will represent your state when that “electoral college” meets and who will be pledged to vote in turn for Trump.

It has been for a long time an open question whether a state can punish electors who break their vow, and who may vote for (again, hypothetically) Biden although their state voted for Trump.

The Thing to Know:

The Supreme Court’s decision determined that states can in fact punish a so-called “faithless elector.” The electoral college vote as described in Justice Kagan’s opinion is not a deliberative function, but is to be considered simply a ceremony to ratify an established result.


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