Let's say Trump wins the Nov 8 2016 election but, because some Alabama electors break their pledge, the electoral college chooses Clinton on Jan 6. It seems that those electors would then just need to pay a fine (of only like $1000) and the country would proceed with Clinton as president. Really? What is the real play-by-play expected outcome in your opinion?

I would guess the legislators would then write a constitutional amendment to better bind future electors. I can't foresee anything else, but it seems there should already be a peaceful legal procedure (or could this case somehow get decided by the supreme court?) to contest the election and put Trump in office.

  • 2
    "What is the real play-by-play expected outcome in your opinion?" = interesting discussion topic, but rather broad for a Q/A site.
    – user1530
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 15:47
  • 1
    In what manner does Trump win the election? Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:37
  • @Drunk In the standard USA manner, which assumes all electors keep their pledge and vote for the candidate who got the most votes in their state.
    – bobuhito
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 23:08
  • It's like this youtube.com/watch?v=nFTRwD85AQ4
    – user9790
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 10:18

3 Answers 3


Could faithless electors really change the USA president?

It's possible under current laws, but in reality, it's very difficult.

That's actually a grey area in states that don't have any law to prevent it. Some states like you stated have a fine, while others simply disregard the vote and he/she will be replaced by a substitute elector.

Even though technically speaking, it would be possible. I highly doubt that one person can go against tens of millions of voters. Sure, there have been instances of faithless electors now and then, but none of them have changed the results of the election.

I do believe that if an election is so close, and a faithless elector managed to change the results, there will be actions taken. Just imagine what would happen if the faithless elector succeeded in changing the results of an election. It would be disastrous.

So, if it really happens, it would be unprecedented and actions will almost for sure be taken.

Some articles to get a second opinion:

  • I'm not seeing enough details to agree that "It's very difficult", but I sense that there is difficulty. I gave the Alabama details to try to get a more detailed response.
    – bobuhito
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 15:58
  • So does it mean actually the general vote doesn't count, however, all electors have to follow the outcome of general vote in their state if they don't want to be faithless, is it correct?
    – Qian Chen
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 10:01
  • @ElgsQianChen Yes, only the electoral votes counts, the popular vote doesn't. A notable example is the Gore vs Bush election in 2000, where Bush won the electoral college while Gore won the popular vote.
    – Panda
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 10:54
  • A faithless elector isn't "going against tens of millions of votes." First, no state even had ten million people vote: California, the largest, had about 9M. Second, a faithless elector is, arguably, only going against just over half the winning margin in their state. In a small, close state, the margin might only be a few thousand or tens of thousand votes. For example, Clinton seems to have won New Hampshire by about 1500 votes: a faithless elector there would be saying "I'm going to pretend that about 751 people voted differently." Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 19:18
  • @DavidRicherby I think your argument that a faithless elector would only be going against the wishes of half the winning margin runs into trouble when you try to identify which voters have been dissed: votes are not abstract numbers, each is bound to a specific person. Also, by the same argument, the winner is only elected by half the margin, which would make a mockery of the principles of democracy.
    – sdenham
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 5:06

I would guess the legislators would then write a constitutional amendment to better bind future electors.

Two states have already made votes that don't align with the popular vote void. The National Popular Vote project notes:

In a 1919 case involving a state statute entitled “An act granting to women the right to vote for presidential electors,” the Maine Supreme Judicial Court wrote (In re Opinion of the Justices):

“[E]ach state is thereby clothed with the absolute power to appoint electors in such manner as it may see fit, without any interference or control on the part of the federal government, except, of course, in case of attempted discrimination as to race, color, or previous condition of servitude….”

So a state could simply assign a backup elector in that case. So fifty state laws could substitute for one federal constitutional amendment.

It might be difficult to pass such an amendment, as that scenario so clearly favors the Democrats. A constitutional amendment requires bipartisan support.

I didn't find any useful information about Alabama electors, but according to the Bustle link that @luweiqi posted:

But we could see some such electors in 2016; two Republican electors, one from Georgia and one from Texas — states that don't have laws requiring faithfulness — have suggested they may withhold their electoral votes from Trump should he win in those states.

But that wouldn't necessarily impact the election. They are talking about "withholding" their vote from Donald Trump. Unless they vote for Hillary Clinton, that can only send the election to Congress. It takes a majority of all possible votes to win the election. If Clinton doesn't have it, removing votes from Trump doesn't give it to her. She'd have to add votes to her total.

Republicans aren't terribly happy with Trump, but they don't like Clinton either. Faithless electors are more likely to vote for Pence or similar than to vote for Clinton. Republicans will almost certainly control enough House delegations to keep Clinton from winning there (assuming an electoral college deadlock) due to their dominance in small states like Wyoming and the Dakotas.

The House might just vote Trump. If there are enough Never Trump Republicans to deadlock the House though, the presidency could go to the new vice-president. If there is no vice-president (because neither candidate gets the necessary 51 Senate votes), the presidency goes to the Speaker of the House.

So faithless electors are unlikely to elect Clinton. It's barely possible that they could cause Tim Kaine to be elected, although House Republicans might manage to rally behind Trump and prevent that. There is a much higher chance of Mike Pence and an odd corner case where it goes to Paul Ryan or whomever is the next Speaker of the House.

Now, if Clinton had a faithless elector, that could switch the election to Trump or another Republican.

  • Interesting. I had thought my scenario of some electors flipping was more likely, but you convinced me that it is too rare to even consider. Maybe I should add to the assumptions of my question that, in 2018, it is discovered that a foreign country bribed these few electors one million dollars each to flip.
    – bobuhito
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:31
  • @bobuhito That would tend to be too speculative for Politics.SE. And if you're going to do it, it would make more sense for it to either be Hillary Clinton (multi-millionaire) switching from Trump or Russia flipping electors from Clinton to Trump. A foreign country other than Russia paying electors seems unlikely. For that matter, Russia would be more likely to blackmail electors than bribe them. The key problem with a bribed elector is that it tends to leave a trail when they start spending the bribe.
    – Brythan
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 15:07
  • Does it matter if it leaves a trail—is there a law against bribing electors or electors accepting a bribe? Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 0:03
  • @EricPostpischil If nothing else, it is illegal to bribe voters or to take a bribe as a voter. Presumably that would apply to the electoral college as well as regular voters.
    – Brythan
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 3:07

To bribe an elector is a felony at both the state and federal levels, with loooong prison sentences. Also, if the Republican state committee feels a particular elector is faithless, they can appoint a new elector. And even if they could get enough electors to give the election to Hillary Clinton, the Republican controlled House of Representatives votes to accept or reject the report of the electoral college. And then they decide who becomes president, and it ain't likely to be Hillary. I do find it amusing that both the Obama administration and the Hillary campaign said this is what Donald Trump supporters would do, refuse to accept the results of the election.

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