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The United States uses an Electoral College system, where electors pledge to cast their vote in a particular way. However, these electors have the ability to vote in a manner that directly contradicts their pledge.

What purpose is served by allowing for the possibility of a faithless elector? Is this part of the system specifically designed to consider the possibility that an elected candidate could die before the elector is able to cast their vote, or is it intended to be the last check in the election process?

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It's essentially a remnant from a time when the U.S. political system worked differently. (Not unlike the Electoral College itself, according to some.)

When the Constitution was written in 1787, information traveled much more slowly than it does today, and the framers believed that most people would not be well-informed about issues and candidates outside of their own state. Consequently, rather than having people vote directly for the President, they instead had people vote for electors, who would be prominent, well-informed citizens of their respective states. The idea was that people would vote for electors whom they generally agreed with and would trust to make the right decision. Electors would then use their individual judgment in voting for President.

Obviously, this isn't how the system works today, but changing the Constitution is hard, so electors are still technically able to choose who to vote for, even though their names no longer actually appear on the ballot. Some states do have laws that attempt to compel electors to vote for the candidate they're pledged to, but not all.

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    More of a remnant from how the authors of the Constitution thought the system would work. In reality, pledged electors (and one "faithless elector", and complaints against him) were already around for the first contested election in 1796. – dan04 Jun 16 '13 at 3:59
  • This answer is quite a bit biased against the electoral college and doesn't bring up some of the important reasons why it is in our government. Small example: we are a federation and not direct democracy to protect against the tyranny of the majority – David Grinberg Nov 10 '16 at 22:52
  • @DavidGrinberg This question is specifically about faithless electors, not the electoral college as a whole. – Kevin Nov 21 '16 at 19:26
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In the election of 1872, Grant easily beat Horace Greely, 286 to what would have been 66 votes for Greely. Had this been reversed, however, there would have been an issue - Greely died after the general election but before the Electoral College voted. Even worse, shortly before his death, Greely went mad, and was about to be committed.

Had Greely been the winner of the general election, an interesting problem would have arisen - who should be President? As unpledged electors, the voters had put their faith in a representative sample of men (and yes, it was men!) who generally voted in line with what Greely would have wanted. Allowing electors to vote according to their wishes avoids the problem by electing an idea, rather than a person.

  • But he could have just as easily died or gone mad after the Electoral College voted and before being inaugurated, and you would have the same problem. – user102008 Apr 3 '18 at 2:19
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Faceless and Faithless Electors: Two things our Founders never wanted.

In Federalist Paper #68 Alexander Hamilton describes the nature and the purpose of the Electoral College. The idea of "faithless electors" is obscene because the votes of electors are NOT supposed to be PRE-determined. America is a democracy WITHIN a republic -- the peoples' will placed into the hands of representatives -- and the EC was supposed to be the same. The EC was intended to be populated by non-politicians, men without office democratically known by and chosen by the PEOPLE of each state, not faceless unknowns anointed by a small circle of ELITE party leadership. They were supposed to be able to enter into their duty as electors -- to select the executive -- without pre-existing biases, not be a pre-pledged rubber stamp to the man desired by those already in the government. That is why electors are never allowed to be office holders. What we have today is a mockery of the intent of our founding fathers who envisioned the EC populated with men who were known and respected by their state populations, empowered in a republican fashion to be able make educated and informed decisions of behalf of the people.

Hamilton wrote:

"It was equally desirable, that the immediate election 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."

In modern language this means that our founders wanted the Electors to be men who were very capable of analyzing the qualities of the candidates, and also capable of taking action on such analysis. They intended that the process of decision and vote by the Electors would be "deliberative" and not just an automatic signatory process as it is now. Finally our founders wanted Electors to show judgement, reason, and the ability to see the pros and cons of each candidate in deciding who would serve as President.


NOTE: I saw the above in a discussion thread on Facebook and copied the text but I didn't copy the name of whoever posted it. If I see it again I will update this answer. I have edited it a bit for spelling and formatting. Just being honest and trying to give credit to the source.

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In Texas, at least in the Democratic party, the slate of electors are themselves elected from local (state senate district) conventions. Folks running for the job campaign, give a (very short) speech at the convention and then win or loose based on a vote of the party faithful. Other than being an eligible voter in the district, being "affiliated" to the party (basically, not having voted in the Republican primary or run-off), signing an oath to vote for the candidate and winning that election, there are no other requirements. I was an Obama elector-candidate in 2012.

I've talked to the Texas Republican elector who voted against Trump in 2016. I also heard a rather interesting presentation he gave on how he made the decision to vote against Trump. He did a lot of research (including the Federalist Papers, the constitution, the history of faithless electors) and decided it was his duty to vote against someone he felt was not worthy of the job. That's the way the system is designed to work (well, sorta-kinda work).

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