News & Events

‘Faithless electors’ an anomaly in US elections

One of the biggest threats to American democracy via the elections is the emerging phenomenon of ‘faithless electors’, a legal issue which has never been challenged in the Supreme Court. This anomaly was pointed out by Professor Russell Powell, Associate Provost and Professor of Law, Seattle University. He was addressing students and faculty in Xavier Hall on Thursday on the topic ‘The Elections Systems in the U.S.’.

In the last US elections, several electors were pressured to become ‘faithless electors’. For example, some Democrat and Republican winners sought to shift their votes to other candidates - Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton, or Ron Paul instead of Donald Trump, respectively. Prof Powell said, “51 per cent of the popular votes in Florida include all the electors in Florida. So, Florida gets 38 electors. So, all of them can’t be members of Congress but usually they are active members from the winning party. In the past election, the Republican Party had a list of electors who were going to be from the state and all the members were Republicans. So, generally the assumption is if your state voted Republican, then the U.S. elector has a moral obligation to vote for a Republican candidate. Historically, almost always people vote for whoever the candidate was from the winning party,” he said.

One thing that hasn’t happened in the U.S. is that the electorate hasn’t come to a deadlock. If there is no majority in the Electoral College (which is 270 electors) then the 12th amendment says that the decision goes to the House of Representatives, he noted. “In fact, the popular television series, House of Cards, talks about what would happen if there is a failure of the U.S. electorate college system and the implication is that it only happens if there is corruption. It hasn’t happened yet, but if it were to happen it would be deeply problematic for our system,” said Powell.

The main goal of the crafters of the U.S. constitution was to avoid turmoil and not to gain direct control. One of the biggest criticisms about the U.S. presidential elections is that it is undemocratic in many ways and a system that is intrinsically rigged to serve few. He also explained the issue of ‘gerrymandering’. In his view, the idea was crafted by a Republican state legislature. He mentioned that this causes imbalance in the electorate by creating maps and manipulating boundaries to benefit only one party. One of the examples (that has also made to the Supreme Court) is that of Wisconsin, Eastern Pennsylvania. The map was chalked out in a way that it benefitted the Republican Party. This maximised the result in a way that is undemocratic, he opined. He touched upon upon the alleged Russian intervention in U.S. elections. He mentioned that it is a serious issue for the country’s security and it is been investigated by the Government as well as the FBI. The threat is about a foreign country having the capability to hack US systems and access confidential files.