I'm a little bit confused by reading about the faithless elector. If one candidate won more than 270 votes on the election day. Is there an chance when the electors come to vote in December, some of them change their idea?

So actually the result of the general vote in November doesn't count, or at least is not final, is it correct? It is just to give the electors a guide line in to in the elector vote, is it correct? Also if all electors are 100% faithful, the result of elector vote should be the same as the general vote, is it correct? If this is the case, it looks like the only reason for the elector vote is to let some electors be faithless. I don't see any sense it makes otherwise.

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Could faithless electors really change the USA president?
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 9:57
  • 1
    And of course, all of this ignores the possibility of having to recount votes (it can happen due to a candidate demanding it, or in several states it happens automatically if the results are too close).
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 10:17
  • @SJuan76, if all electors are faithful, the result should not change, is it correct? If this is the case, it seems the only reason of the existence of elector vote is to give the electors a chance to be faithless, is it correct?
    – Qian Chen
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 10:24
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    It is more complicated than that. Think that it all comes from a time where the fastest way of travelling was on horseback. Electors were needed as a mechanism that allowed, if the need arose (nobody got enough electoral votes to get elected, a candidate died, etc.), to negotiate a solution in a timely manner (because each consultation with their home state could take weeks)
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 10:35
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    @SJuan76 - Not exactly. Electors still met in their own states and only voted once. They were just chosen locally and sent to the state capitol to vote as their local people would want.
    – Bobson
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 13:23

3 Answers 3


The vote is not over until Certification The process is not complete until delivery of Certified results to the legislature, the elected position dictating which legislature in involved. The attached has the process in detail for each state, but a typical election is below.

In the typical general election, the process of certifying election results begins as soon as the polls are closed. Election officials at the polling place count the votes and send the vote totals, or “returns,” to a county canvassing board. The county canvassing board proceeds to count and verify, or “canvass,” the various precinct votes and make determinations on the election of county and local officials. Typically, the county canvassing board or county clerk issues a certificate of election to the winners of county and local offices. The county canvassing board also certifies county vote totals for state and federal offices that extend beyond the county limits. These are offices such as President, U.S. Senator and Representative, Governor, Secretary of State, state auditor, state attorney general, and other state executive branch offices. The county canvassing board sends the certified vote totals for these elections to a state canvassing board, and the state board certifies the elections. Certification begins with the counting and certification of votes and ends with the delivery of a certificate of election to the winner. Delivery of the certificate itself typically involves a ceremony with the Governor and Secretary of State in the state legislature during the first week of the January session. In most states, state and local officials are obligated by statute to post the certified results on a website or in a polling place, newspaper, or courthouse at some point in the certification process. Typical certification regimes include rules on: standards for recounts and contests; procedures and times for canvassing votes; staffing of canvassing boards; delivery, security, and return of supplies, ballots, and forms; rules on publishing and recording of certified results; and rules on tie votes and special elections.

For the reasons for the Electoral College, the argument for its inclusion is given by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalists Papers. This Wiki entry gives a serviceable overview but there is a canon of literature on this topic.

Federalist No. 68 is the continuation of Hamilton's analysis of the presidency, in this case concerned with the mode of selecting the United States President. He argues for our modern conception of the Electoral College, though in the case of a tie, the power would be given to the House of Representatives to vote on the election of the president.

In justifying the use of the Electoral College, Hamilton focuses on a few arguments dealing with why the college is used, as opposed to direct election. First, in explaining the role of the general populace in the election of the president, Hamilton argues that the "sense of the people", through the election of the electors to the college, should have a part of the process. The final say, however, lies with the electors, who Hamilton notes are

"Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice."

Therefore, the direct election of the president is left up to those who have been selected by the voters to become the electors. The indirect election is justified by Hamilton because while a republic is still served, the system allows for only a certain type of person to be elected president, preventing individuals who are unfit for a variety of reasons to be in the position of chief executive of the country.

This is reflected in his later fears about the types of people who could potentially become president. He worries that corrupted individuals could potentially be elected president, particularly those who are either more directly associated with a foreign state, or individuals who do not have the capacity to run the country. The former is covered by Article II, Section 1, v of the United States Constitution, while the latter is covered by Hamilton in Federalist 68, noting that the person who will become president will have to be a person who contains the faculties necessary to become president, stating that,

"Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States"

Hamilton, while discussing the safeguards, is not concerned with the possibility of an unfit individual becoming president, instead noting,

It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.

  • Let's say in State X, there are 10 electors, 5 are from Party A, and 5 are from Party B. In the general vote, let's say 55% people voted to Party A Candidate, 45% voted to Party B Candidate. Let's say the 10 electors voted to their party candidates respectively in the general election. Now Candidate A should have won all 10 vote from State X, is it correct? If this is case, In December, the 5 elector from Party B have to vote to Candidate A if they don't want to be faithless, which is different from whom they voted to in the general vote, and quite likely against their will, is it correct?
    – Qian Chen
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 19:14
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    @ElgsQianChen - Not sure if it's the case in all states, but in mine (Michigan) each party appoints a full set of electors at a convention a few weeks before the election. If (2016) Clinton wins, the electors will be 14 Democrats; if Trump, 14 Republicans; if Johnson, 14 Libertarians; if McMullin, up to 14 people who were chosen as part of the write-in application process. All the other groups of chosen electors go home.
    – david
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 19:40
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    Elgs is mostly right. There are a few states, like ME, with proportional representation of electors. Mostly it's winner take all.
    – user9790
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 19:45
  • Elgs is mostly wrong. David has it right. If there are 10 electoral votes for a state (A state with 2 senators and 8 house reps) then as David says, there would be 10 from A, 10 from B, etc. So the losing party has no electors (except in Maine or other proportional states.)
    – MrPete
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 3:03

As noted by K Dog it is the not until the Electoral college actually sits and votes that the real election takes place. Technically, what we are doing today is electing the Electors.

Since the 60s, way to many historians have place an elitist connotation on the Electoral college but in 1792, it served several practical purposes.

-) First and foremost, it prevented vote fraud. It was easier to confirm the both the identities and votes a few dozen individuals all collected in one spot. Travel times dictated that only a handful of individuals from each state could be involved.

-) You have to remember that the word "State" has shifted meaning when applied to the U.S. acquiring a since of province or department but in 1792 it meant a Sovereign polity. If America was being named today, it might be called the United Nations of America as the two words have begun to overlap.

Many of the state seals displayed in courtrooms still have the state name proceeded with "sovereign". In the legal form for extradition between states, takes the form of "the sovereign state of New York request extradition of person 'X' from the sovereign state of Texas."

Therefore, the electors officially represent a sovereign polity with a federation. Just as with Senators originally, the Electors represented the State governments and the procedure for electing them varied. Universal white male suffrage only became universal in the 1850s and before then Electors were chosen by the State legislatures. South Carolina was the last to do so in 1860.

-) Basing the number of electors on the number of Federal Representatives plus two Senators for each state prevents the dreaded one-man-one-vote which despite the just sound of it, only works in small, homogenous populations. America has always been to physically diverse with large variations in population density.

Only members of the House of Representatives are elected by one-man-one-vote.

Alaska and Vermont both have populations of only mid-sized cities. Combined they have fewer than 1 million voters. Without the the automatic two Senators and thus two electors, the people of neither state would have any say in the Federal government. In 1792, this would have prevented the ratification of the Constitution. In times since, its allowed people whom we need to work way out in the sticks e.g. farmers, miners, settlers etc to still have a practical say in what goes on in Washington.

This was vitally important early on because the greatest threat to young United States was that European powers would manipulate states into leaving the Union and pick the country apart. That was the warning in Washingtons, parting address with it's famous line about "avoiding foreign entanglements." With extra influence at the Federal level, the smaller states could grow frustrated and believe, perhaps correctly, they would be better off on their own or allied to outside power.

-) The winner-takes-all-electors in a state system is also a means by which smaller states gain disproportionate representation and it also helps create a mandate for the President by giving the winner a big majority in the electoral college.

E.g. In 1860 Lincoln received 180 electoral votes, not only a majority but larger than all the other three candidates combined. But he only carried 39% of the popular vote with the other three gathering 18.1%, 12.6%, and 29.5%. He did not gain a majority of the popular vote but he won broadly enough that he had a decisive mandate in the electoral college.

(It was likely Lincoln acquiring the mandate without getting a single vote from a slave state, that triggered session. The Southern Slavearchs realized that from that point on, the South could be ignored by Presidential candidates and still win. Because of the regional block voting created by the contention of slavery, the South would never have real weight in the Federal government again.)

-) In principle, the Electoral college also serves as safeguard against someone manifestly unfit from becoming President. This is the origins of the concept of the faithless elector.

But since the Constitution makes a the specific point that the Electors are not bound, they're not being any less faithless, in the votes they cast than the standard representative who claim he will vote one way but in office fails to do so.

In 1792, the greatest concern was that some European aristocrat of some American with delusions of the nobility would try and slip through. Even outright imposters could not be ruled out in a nation so large and diverse. Presidential candidates didn't tour the country until after the Civil War and rise of the railroads. Local party members did all the campaigning. The type of background checks we take for granted now didn't exist, there wasn't any investigation close like finding out how much Sarah Palin paid for the drywall in her basement.

The original Electors were almost all senior members of the either the State government or the State's Federal delegation. Each State electoral delegation was part of an old-boys-network that could vouch for both the identity and minimal integrity of a candidate from their own state. In a system of direct election, someone known only from writings and and local speech makers (usually hired guns in any case) could get to the Presidency and, "surprise," you've got a king, or a candidate might have fallen ill, physically or mentally in the months since the election.

The Electors were originally elite political leaders collected from all over the country to give a final vetting of the candidates. Just in case.

The Founding generation, not just the political leaders but the entire electorate spent nearly a decade thrashing out the details of the Constitution. Every jot and tittle was scrutinized repeatedly. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and think about all the practical problems, things like travel times and identification, plus their understanding of history e.g. the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution exerted a profound influence on their thinking, something we would hardly consider.

We probably could dispense with the actual electors today as technology has eliminated many of the problem they were created to solve, but we would still have retain the actual voting system. Otherwise, California, Texas, Florida and New York would run everything and no one else would have much say.

"A'int broke don't fix it" applies here.

  • Slight nitpick: Senators are also elected by popular vote (since the 17th Amendment).
    – user8545
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 11:28
  • A comment from a few years in the future :) Clearly, technology has made things much worse with respect to elections. In 1996 a unanimous SCOTUS decision said that any state presidential election that did not finish BOTH the voting and counting within the stated 24 hour election day... was a null and void election, which had to be decided by that state's legislature. (Could START earlier, but not finish before nor after election day.) Clearly the 2020 election failed this on many counts. Nobody AFAIK tested this in court. Clearly we have timing issues 200 years later :-D
    – MrPete
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 2:51
  • "Local party members did all the campaigning. The type of background checks we take for granted now didn't exist." Yeah... they actually knew the candidates. We don't have significant background checks today either. A compliant media has devolved to a standard of "advocacy journalism" which completely ignores all evidence counter to a preferred meme.
    – MrPete
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 2:54

The result of an election is almost always the same as the result of the popular vote, but even without faithless electors, the electoral college could select someone who lost the popular vote.

The tricky part is, citizens aren't really voting for president. They're voting for electors who promise to vote for a presidential candidate. Let's say a certain state has 7 electors. That means candidate A will have 7 electors for that state, candidate B will have their own 7 electors, candidate C has their 7 electors.

In the popular vote, Candidate A gets 55% of the vote, B gets 40%, and C gets 5%. In that case, all 7 of A's electors will be able to vote, but B and C won't have any of their electors able to vote - the winner takes all (Unless the state is Maine or Nebraska, in which case they'll be divided up - there will still be 7 electors for the state, but maybe 4 will be for A and 3 for B).

The electors actually vote for president. If an elector who promised to vote for A actually votes for B, then they are a faithless elector.

For more information, see: https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html

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