Regarding the Supreme Court's decision to curb ‘Faithless Electors’, I began researching how exactly the Electoral College works.

Then I read this NY Times article on how the Electoral College works, but I still have the same questions.

For example, in a blue state like New York, all 29 members of the Electoral College will vote Democrat. If any one of those 29 electors votes Republican, are those votes considered "Faithless Electors"?

For a swing state like Florida that's leaning red, do "Faithless Electors" exist?

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    That's a lot of different questions; you might want to narrow that down. Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 17:36
  • 1
    You’re right. I’ve edited the question. Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 23:48

2 Answers 2


Every state other than Maine and Nebraska is "winner take all". That is, whichever candidate receives a plurality of the popular vote in that state receives all of that state's electoral votes. If more Floridians vote for Biden in 2020 than Trump, Biden gets all 29 votes in the Electoral College. If more Floridians vote for Trump, Trump gets all 29 votes. It doesn't matter how close the election is, one side or the other will get all of Florida's votes. When election night projections are made, they are projecting who will win the popular vote in that state and assuming that the state's Electoral College votes will go to that popular vote winner.

If one of the 29 electors from Florida decided to vote for someone other than the winner of the popular vote in Florida, that person would be a faithless elector. As a practical matter, it is very unlikely that someone would do this in a way that could potentially change the outcome of the election. Each party nominates a slate of electors and each presidential campaign has a large influence over who the party nominates so defections are uncommon. In Florida, the Democratic party will undoubtedly have a slate of 29 electors that have been active in Democratic party politics in Florida for many years and the Biden campaign would have a fair amount of say in who gets picked. The same would go for the Republican slate. The odds that someone selected in this way would vote for someone other than their party's candidate are relatively low. Normally, when it happens, it is done as a protest vote which is not intended to change the outcome-- someone on the losing side casts a ballot for an alternate candidate that lost in the primaries, for example. In 2016, though, there were 10 electors that were prepared to vote for a different candidate with the intention of changing the outcome (some of these were disallowed by their state's faithless elector laws). That's the source of the recent Supreme Court case on the subject.

Practically, a voter in a solidly red or solidly blue state that supports the opposite party doesn't accomplish much by voting in the presidential race. Over time, they can help cause their state to move from solidly one color to leaning one color to a toss-up purple state. As elections narrow, the opposition party has the incentive to invest more in building up the party in that state which may lead the state to become competitive in the future. And the voter might influence down-ballot races where opposition party candidates have a chance. But Republican voters in New York and Democratic voter in Utah have little practical influence on who will win the 2020 Presidential election.

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    Academically it is true that voters in states that lean to the opposite party have a lower probability of affecting the election. However, I must point out that it is a PROBABILITY, not a certainty. I would note the 1984 election of Ronald Reagan as an example where things did not turn out as probability dictated. So I would advise that all who want to vote should vote as if they were the only citizen of the state. You do count! Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 19:36
  • If the electoral votes for a state are a direct representation of the popular vote (ie. Since candidate won a popular vote, then candidate will receive electoral votes), then how can a candidate win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote? Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 21:52
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    @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf Because electoral votes are not proportional to population. The Electors/Population ratio is much better for Wyoming than it is California. Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 0:11
  • @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf - First because the size of the win in each state doesn't matter, just the win. From an Electoral College standpoint, it doesn't matter whether you win California by 1 vote or 10 million votes, you get all its Electoral College votes. That has recently meant that close elections have turned on a few thousand or tens of thousands of votes in a few swing states. Secondarily, the number of Electoral College votes is equal to the number of House seats (proportional to population) plus the number of Senate seats (2 per state) which gives an advantage to small states. Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 0:42

There is a huge difference between how the Electoral College was designed to work, and how it works in practice. The intent was

that the immediate election [of the President] should be made by 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. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. (The Federalist Papers, Number 68)

That is, in those days when communication was slow and information-gathering was hard, it was not expected that the average citizen, or even the average state legislator, would know enough about the Presidential candidates and their platform to make an informed decision. So instead of voting for President directly, they'd vote for “electors” who would evaluate the candidates and do the actual voting for President. Electors were expected to be “faithful” only to their own consciences, and not to their state's citizenry.

But in practice, it took just a few years for the US to form national political parties and national Presidential campaigns. Electors would campaign on a “platform” of voting for a specific candidate (“I will vote for John Adams”), and people would get annoyed if the elector voted “wrong”, as with Samuel Miles in 1796, the first “faithless elector”.

Eventually, states gave official recognition to the idea of pledged electors who are a rubber stamp for their state's popular vote, and print ballots with the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates listed as if voters elected them directly, with some fine print that a vote for a candidate is actually a vote for a slate of electors pledged to that candidate. And some states even passed laws penalizing electors for breaking their pledges, which were upheld in today's Supreme Court decision.

For example, in a blue state like New York, all 29 members of the Electoral College will vote Democrat. If any one of those 29 electors votes Republican, are those votes considered "Faithless Electors"?

Yes. Assuming that the elector was part of a statewide slate of electors pledged to the Democrat candidate.

For a swing state like Florida that's leaning red, do "Faithless Electors" exist?

It would just as possible as an any other state. Maybe Florida will vote Red, or maybe it will vote Blue. But either way, once the votes have been counted and a winner determined (even if it takes Supreme Court intervention, as in 2000), one of the two slates of electors will be appointed, and expected to vote for the candidate they pledged to vote for.

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