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I recently read this question:

Could faithless electors really change the USA president?

I gather that a faithless elector is an elector who goes against the votes cast, but why are they called a faithless elector? What is the background behind this?

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The history of the term's usage can be seen on Google's n-Gram:

Faithless elector, Faithless electors both show zero hits before 1965.

The first mention I could find was "Electoral College Reform: Hearings ... 91-1, on H.J.Res. 179, H.J.Res.181, and Similar Proposals, February 5, 6, 19, 20, 26, 27; March 5, 6, 12, and 13, 1969, Serial, Issue 1"

It's never mentioned in the legal documents that I know of, so it seems to be a common language term.

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They are deemed faithless because they pledge to vote for a candidate when they are chosen as electors and then break that pledge a vote for some other candidate. Breaking the pledge makes them faithless

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  • This explains what a faithless elector is, but why faithless? Why aren't they called Pledge Breaker Electors? The comment by @blip on the question appears to answer that part – Tom J Nowell Nov 3 '16 at 16:05
  • It's faithfulness to the pledge. Remember both sides have their own electors and when chosen the outcome isn't known. They aren't betraying the popular vote; they are not beholden to it. – user9790 Nov 3 '16 at 16:09
  • @TomJNowell I think K Dog's answer is more technically correct than my comment. I'd vote this one as correct. – user1530 Nov 3 '16 at 16:54
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This term can, IMHO, best be understood as an antonym of faithful, which is a common English word.

Definition of faithful (Entry 1 of 2)
1: steadfast in affection or allegiance : LOYAL
a faithful friend
2: firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty : CONSCIENTIOUS a faithful employee

The 2nd meaning (there are others) is the one of interest here.

Somehow who takes on a duty to vote as per the choices of the electorate, who then breaks from that duty is not being faithful.

(However take into account that they could still be deemed to be performing their role as intended by the founders of the US government, who often wanted to uncouple sober governance from the hot-headed impulses of the people which was one of the motivations for the electoral college system.)

While unfaithful , a more common word, seems like it could be used instead, that word is more reserved for use in a marital/sexual context.

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