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 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT