Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Rogue electors threaten elections' integrity

By Robert M. Alexander, Special to CNN
updated 1:12 PM EDT, Fri October 26, 2012
CNN's Electoral Map from October 20 reflects the standing of the candidates by state.
CNN's Electoral Map from October 20 reflects the standing of the candidates by state.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rogue electors can disenfranchise millions of voters, Robert M. Alexander says
  • Many electors are subjected to vigilant lobbying campaigns to change their votes, he says
  • We need to take the guesswork out of the Electoral College, Alexander says
  • States should move to adopt the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, he says

Editor's note: Robert M. Alexander is a professor of political science at Ohio Northern University and the author of "Presidential Electors and the Electoral College: An Examination of Lobbying, Wavering Electors and Campaigns for Faithless Votes."

(CNN) -- While Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns rage on toward November 6, another campaign has been under way for some time, one that's mostly out of the public's eye.

An investigation by The Associated Press last month revealed that as many as five Republican electors expressed uncertainty whether they would actually vote for Mitt Romney if he carried their state. These electors appear to be unhappy with Romney and continue to show support for his primary rival Rep. Ron Paul.

In the wake of this news, one of the electors abruptly resigned her position. On another front, a Minnesota elector suggested that he may not vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket if the candidates fail to furnish their birth certificates (in an effort to put pressure on all candidates to furnish their birth certificates).

These potentially rogue electors would effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of voters. The 2012 election will probably be very close. Consequently, in the worst of scenarios, a "faithless" vote might not only disenfranchise voters but alter the outcome of the race. While unlikely, this begs the question: Why do presidential electors still have independence in our current presidential selection process?

Robert M. Alexander
Robert M. Alexander

After examining those who make up the institution, I find one thing increasingly clear: We need to take the guesswork out of the Electoral College.

In 2004, I published a study aimed at shedding light on the mysterious figures who serve as presidential electors. In the hotly contested 2000 election, many electors were subjected to vigilant lobbying campaigns. Some received thousands of e-mails; at least one received a death threat.

A group called Citizens for a True Democracy, founded by two college seniors, published the contact information of 172 Republican electors online and asked people to urge them to put "patriotism before partisanship" and give their electoral votes to Al Gore. The group noted that it would have lobbied Democratic electors to give their votes to George W. Bush had he, rather than Gore, won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Remarkably, four of the Republican electors I surveyed expressed unease over Bush's victory and the recounts in Florida. On its face, this would not be cause for great concern. However, the 271 electoral votes amassed by the Bush-Cheney ticket barely pushed them over the 270-vote Electoral College majority needed to win the election.

Consequently, just two Republican defections or abstentions would have denied the ticket of a majority of electoral votes and thrown the contest into the House of Representatives. Bush would still probably have been elected, but the Electoral College would have created yet another round of uncertainty.

CNN poll shows tight race in Florida
Presidential race locks up in dead heat

Surveying the 2004 and 2008 presidential electors, I found that the 2000 election was not an isolated event. One-third of electors were contacted to change their votes in 2004, and nearly 80% were lobbied to change their votes in 2008. That year, the bulk of lobbying was conducted by "birthers" who saw presidential electors as a last hope to get their voices heard after their legal battles failed.

Currently, a majority of states and the District of Columbia have legal requirements or pledges to ensure that electors vote for their party's ticket. While the overwhelming majority of electors never consider changing their votes, a surprisingly large number do.

In my survey, nearly 10% of electors in 2004 and 11.5% of electors (including 20% of Republicans) in 2008 gave some consideration to voting contrary to expectations. To put this in perspective, this would be akin to all 55 of California's electors considering defection from their party's ticket. Such a prospect is quite unnerving.

Join CNN for the presidential debates
Watch CNN's coverage of Monday's final presidential debate starting at 7 p.m. ET on CNN TV, CNN.com and via CNN's mobile apps. Clip-and-share your favorite debate moments on Facebook and Twitter, join the discussion on our live blog and get comprehensive coverage on our debates page. Need other reasons to watch the debate on CNN's platforms? Click here for our list.

Indeed, faithless electors are not fanciful creatures from mythology: Nine of the past 16 presidential elections have witnessed faithless votes (including two of the past three). Although none changed the outcome of an election, each faithless vote effectively disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters.

Electors are chosen primarily for their party loyalty, not for their judgment regarding candidates. Whatever one thinks of the Electoral College, Americans have come to expect that electors will faithfully translate the popular vote into the electoral vote. Elector independence simply adds another layer of uncertainty to a process that already has a great deal of cynicism attached to it.

Attempts to curtail faithless votes reflect a very real concern lawmakers and party officials have about the prospect of faithless voting. Ronald Reagan, for example, sent letters to each of the 538 Republican electors shortly before the 1980 election. If candidates are worried about such mischief, citizens should be concerned as well.

Efforts to prevent elector faithlessness, like the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, would provide greater assurance in the presidential selection process, a process where many citizens already have great concerns.

Too often, laws proscribing faithless voting take place in states after the act has been committed. States should move to adopt the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act sooner rather than later. Doing so would remove the needless uncertainty created by potentially faithless electors and restore some confidence in the Electoral College process.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert M. Alexander.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT