Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Rogue electors threaten elections' integrity

By Robert M. Alexander, Special to CNN
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
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
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
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.
ADVERTISEMENT