Supreme Court rules US states can punish 'faithless electors'

The US Supreme Court is viewed on July 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that US states have the right to remove and punish members of the Electoral College for not backing the presidential candidate whom they pledged to support.

The unanimous ruling, which comes ahead of November's election between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, allows states to use measures to bind Electoral College members to their commitments, essentially preventing them from going against the will of a state's voting majority.

The Electoral College, a peculiarly American institution, is comprised of 538 electors who translate the popular vote by casting their ballots in favor of the candidate who gets the most votes in each state.

Historically, so-called faithless electors have been rare. During the presidential elections organized from 1796 to 2016, only 180 electors have voted contrary to their pledge, according to a document admitted to the court.

Advocates of faithless electors argued that since the Constitution makes no mention of the issue, states should not be allowed to fine or remove electors who do not remain true to their commitments.

But all nine Supreme Court justices concluded that states can assure that their electors "have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens."

"That direction accords with the Constitution -- as well as with the trust of a nation that here, We the People rule," they wrote, invoking the opening words of the US Constitution.

In 2016, seven of the 535 electors cast votes at odds with the popular-vote winners, including five who declined to cast votes for Hillary Clinton even though she won the vote in the states of those electors. Two declined to vote for Trump.

Faithless electors have never upended an election result, but Justice Brett Kavanaugh said in May arguments that the court had "to look forward ... and worry about chaos."

Fifteen states already have laws that allow sanction of faithless electors, including his or her immediate removal and replacement with an alternate whose vote the state reports instead.

A few states impose monetary fines on electors who flout their pledge.

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