From Wikipedia article on United States Electoral College,

All jurisdictions use a winner-take-all method to choose their electors, with the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, which use a one-elector-per-district method while also assigning two electors based on the winning ticket of the statewide popular vote.

From, Wikipedia article on Faithless elector

In United States presidential elections, a faithless elector is a member of the United States Electoral College who does not vote for the presidential or vice-presidential candidate for whom they had pledged to vote.

Not having enough knowledge on the US elections, both seem contrasting to me. I am confused on :

  • If the whole state's (any except the two exceptions) votes go to either of the two major parties, how may one become "faithless" or decide not to vote for whom he/she has pledged to vote earlier?

I did realise:

  • there are laws specific to each state, and

  • historically, there has been cases of faithlessness.

but this simple problem (in bold above) is where I am stuck.

Apologies, if this is a duplicate. I would appreciate any guidance regarding this.

3 Answers 3


The system of choosing the electors does not matter.

What matters is that the electors are people who will carry their vote, and in doing so they may choose to vote against the instructions given to them by their states.

So the answer is "because the system is designed to allow for it."

Think of it in terms of 18th century politics, when actual first hand information about a candidate's ideas, program and character would be unavailable to almost everybody. Then electors would often go to the capital with some objectives defined by their states and then would support whichever candidate they thought best (and even engage in negotiations of promising support in exchange is the candidate agreeing on some policy).


Let me point out that while our ballots say we are voting for Pres/VP, we are actually voting for Electors who have pledged to vote for those candidates when they meet later as the Electoral College. Each party submits a list of Electors they want, and those lists are a matter of public record, but they don’t appear on the ballot itself (at least in modern times). So, my vote for Pres/VP in Texas is actually a vote for that list of 38 other people submitted by my party. Ditto for someone voting for the other party’s list. One list gets more votes than the other, and then all 38 people on the winning list become Texas’s 38 Electors.

This “winner take all” system (except in Nebraska or Maine) has an enormous effect on the politics but doesn’t change how those Electors may act. These Electors are real people with free will, though the media usually glosses over that and refers only to their Electoral Votes.

Electors who do not honor their pledge are called “faithless”, and there have been dozens of such cases over the years, though so far never enough to affect the final result. Some states have instituted fines or even replacement for faithless Electors, though most have not.

For instance, in 2016, twelve Electors were faithless. Two Electors sworn to vote for Donald Trump (R) instead voted for John Kasich (R) and Ron Paul (L); and nine Electors sworn to vote for Hillary Clinton (D) instead voted for Bernie Sanders (I), Colin Powell (R), John Kasich (R) and Faith Spotted Eagle (D). Why they did so is probably an interesting question in its own right.


Each party will nominate a slate of electors in advance of the election in various ways, such as a party convention, by the party chair, or by the governor.

When it's declared that, for example, Texas has been won by Trump, what that actually means is that the Republicans' 38 electors, as chosen at the state convention, have won the right to represent Texas in the Electoral College. If, between the day of the convention and the day the Electoral College meets, the elector no has changed his/her mind about the candidate, he/she could decide to change his/her vote.

  • Re: Each party will nominate a slate of electors in advance of the election in various ways, such as a party convention, by the party chair, or by the governor. Does it mean this slate of electors may not contain members of electoral college? Nov 7, 2020 at 15:45
  • Continuation from the previous comment. Referring this article, The election of the president and the vice president of the United States is an indirect election in which citizens of the United States who are registered to vote in one of the fifty U.S. states or in Washington, D.C., cast ballots not directly for those offices, but instead for members of the Electoral College. Hope I used the terminology correctly. Nov 7, 2020 at 15:50
  • 2
    The electoral college is the sum of all the electors selected by the states. But each party can propose to their state their own candidates, which helps avoid issues (if an elector proposed by the Democrats ends voting for Trump, the Democratic Party would have a harder time complaining than if the elector was elected without its opinion)
    – SJuan76
    Nov 7, 2020 at 16:10
  • 1
    To further explain, the members of the electoral college are equal in number to the Senators+Representatives from that state, but they are not (necessarily) the same people. The "slate of electors" becomes that states delegation in the elector college. Nov 8, 2020 at 15:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .