I am just wondering can electors in US make complex vows.

Even though the aggregate national popular vote is calculated by state officials, media organizations, and the Federal Election Commission, the people only indirectly elect the president, as the national popular vote is not the basis for electing the president or vice president. The president and vice president of the United States are elected by the Electoral College, which consists of 538 electors from the fifty states and Washington, D.C. Electors are selected on a state-by-state basis, as determined by the laws of each state. Since the election of 1824,[47] most states have appointed their electors on a winner-take-all basis, based on the statewide popular vote on Election Day. Maine and Nebraska are the only two current exceptions, as both states use the congressional district method. Although ballots list the names of the presidential and vice presidential candidates (who run on a ticket), voters actually choose electors when they vote for president and vice president. These presidential electors in turn cast electoral votes for those two offices. Electors usually pledge to vote for their party's nominee, but some "faithless electors" have voted for other candidates or refrained from voting.

Currently, if you pick Gary Johnson for example, and Gary Johnson won’t win, then your votes will disappear.

You may prefer Trump than Young or Young than trump.

Something similar happens with Nader and Bush and Gore.

As far as I know, Americans still pick electors. It’s just that the electors swore that they will pick a president after they get “elected”. Imagine if Bob is an electoral college candidate. Bob says I will pick Trump if I am elected. What happens is, people, don’t even know who the hell Bob is. People pick Trump.

However, we know that behind the screen, people don’t really pick Trump. People pick Bob that already swear that he will pick Trump. A small technicality nobody notices.

Imagine if instead of swearing that I will pick Trump, Bob says something like, “I will pick Gary Johnson, and if Gary Johnson can’t win, I will pick Trump, and if Trump can’t win, I will pick Young”. Basically, none of the votes are wasted.

Also, it can happen without having to change any laws on the election. The electoral colleges can make their commitments.

Of course, in practice, voters don’t really pick Bob. They probably see Gary -> Trump -> Young.

Basically, in election, the electors are in the “market”. Often, the one that most voters like, are not necessarily the simplest ones.

This can actually be implemented by single transferable votes. However, instead of changing the election system, the election system remains the same.

Voters simply choose whether they want to burn their vote if their main candidate lose or to pick an elector that will transfer it to their second most favorite candidate.

In fact, I’ve heard that electoral college can actually decides anything. What about if some elector will say that I will pick whatever I want if elected, or I will pick what downloaders of this app pick, if I am elected.

Is there a law that requires an elector to have a simple “vow”?

This question suggest how third party candidates may use what the electors will do as a bargaining position. Would Third Party Candidates in the United States fare better under a proportional representation split of electoral votes?

3 Answers 3


SUMMARY: All states have laws that call for slates of electors to be chosen by the political parties or the candidates at the time of their petition for candidacy being submitted. There is not generally a mechanism for people to choose electors directly, rather than via voting for a particular candidate. Moreover, many states have "faithless elector" laws on the books that require electors to pledge themselves to one particular candidate, rather than pledging themselves to a ranked list of candidates as you propose.

The US Constitution basically leaves the selection of presidential electors to the states, saying each state's electors should be chosen "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." Every state (as well as the District of Columbia) has laws on the books describing how these electors are chosen.

The National Association of Secretaries of State has made a summary of state laws on the selection of electors. In general, these state laws require the leadership of the party in each state to provide a list of electors to the state's Secretary of State (or equivalent office) before the election begins. There is, in general, no provision for electors to run independently of a candidate.

Here, for example, is Virginia's law on how electors are to be chosen:

In elections for President and Vice President of the United States, the appropriate chairman or secretary of each political party shall furnish to the State Board the names of the electors selected by the party at its convention held for that purpose, together with the names of the political party and of the candidates for President and Vice President for whom the electors are required to vote in the Electoral College and a copy of a subscribed and notarized oath by each elector stating that he will, if elected, cast his ballot for the candidates for President and Vice President nominated by the party that selected the elector, or as the party may direct in the event of death, withdrawal or disqualification of the party nominee.

And here's Indiana's:

A political party shall conduct a state convention to nominate the candidates of the political party for the following offices to be voted on at the next general election. The convention may also nominate candidates for presidential electors and alternate electors. If a political party's state convention does not nominate candidates for presidential electors and alternate electors the candidates shall be nominated or the delegates elected as provided in the state party's rules. Political parties must certify the names of all candidates for presidential electors to the election division.

In several states, the electors are required to swear an oath that they will vote for the candidate they are "attached" to; in a few states, there are criminal penalties associated with failing to do so. While laws punishing faithless electors are on shaky ground constitutionally, the Supreme Court has held that requiring electors to swear an oath is OK (Ray v. Blair). Any system under which electors can change the candidate they vote for in the College would probably require a change of these laws.

  • Your first sentence is incorrect. Pennsylvania is a state and allows the candidates to choose the slates of electors, not the parties.
    – Brythan
    Jul 30, 2019 at 0:11

At least in all that States I know, you vote for a candidate. That candidate has picked a number of electors to represent that State if they win. So while the electors could make that sort of vow, generally anybody doing that wouldn't be selected by a candidate to be an elector, so that doesn't end up happening.

  • I am sure plenty of Nader's voters want their votes to go to Gore instead of gone. In fact, I think most voters will prefer to have their votes be transferable to their next favorite candidate than for it to disappear
    – user4951
    Jul 29, 2019 at 17:08
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    @user4951 you're right and that has nothing to do with the question or the answer.
    – David Rice
    Jul 29, 2019 at 17:08
  • It has a lot. If it's allowed, then an elector with complex vows will be more likely to be elected
    – user4951
    Jul 29, 2019 at 17:16
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    No, you vote for a candidate. That candidate (or their party) has pre-selected what electors will represent the state in the EC.
    – David Rice
    Jul 29, 2019 at 17:28
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    Technically, most states print on their ballot "A vote for a candidate will actually be a vote for that candidate's electors" or words to that effect. But that's largely irrelevant since state law generally provides for candidates selecting electors, and sometimes also requires electors to unconditionally pledge for their candidate. A "complex vow" elector won't get on the ballot and also cannot be written in (because you write in candidates, not electors).
    – Kevin
    Jul 29, 2019 at 17:48

The electors never meet. So while electors could make such a vow or promise, they generally don't. Because they won't actually know how the other electors are going to vote.

In some states, the electors are bound to a candidate. So they can't be faithless and vote for a different candidate without consequences (e.g. being disqualified as an elector). So the literal answer to whether there are laws preventing complex promises like this is yes. From the Wikipedia link:

Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia have laws against faithless electors. Washington became the first state to fine faithless electors after the 2016 election. In lieu of penalizing a faithless elector, other states such as Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota specify a faithless elector's vote be voided.

In Minnesota in 2016, they actually voided a vote for Bernie Sanders and replaced that elector. The replacement voted for Hillary Clinton as required by the popular vote result.

Another problem here is that in many states, the party selects the electors. The party might not agree on who the next candidate should be. Your Gary Johnson example might be a case of that. Johnson ran on the Libertarian ticket. While libertarian voters have often preferred Republicans, it's not evident that they would have preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton. So a complex promise like this might have made people less likely to vote for Johnson's slate of electors. Because it would have changed things such that "A vote for Johnson is a vote for Trump" might actually be literally true.

  • 1
    Or Johnson can say I have 2 type of electors. The one that will vote for Donald if I lose and the one that will vote for Hillary if I lose. If you choose me you can have "subchoices"
    – user4951
    Jul 31, 2019 at 6:10

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