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What About A Faithless Elector?

September 23, 2016

This is clearly the most intriguing news article of the day.

The Electoral College consists of flesh-and-blood electors rather than disembodied numbers on a map. And even if the Republicans prevailed on Nov. 8, a handful of electors could cost Trump the White House.  

Samuel Miles — a Quaker from Philadelphia and a brigadier general during the Revolutionary War — was the first faithless elector. In 1796, even though he was pledged to Federalist John Adams, Miles cast one of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for Thomas Jefferson, whom he judged less likely to plunge America into a war with France.

According to research by the advocacy group FairVote, 81 other electors in history have pulled a similar trick. In modern times, faithless electors have been motivated by ideology (votes for Barry Goldwater in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980) and idiosyncrasy (an Alabama elector opted for home-town circuit court judge Walter Jones in 1956).

Normally, in a close election, party loyalty trumps any attempt by electors to jigger with the outcome. In fact, it is safe to say that there are few places in America where independent judgment is less prized than in the Electoral College.

But 2016 — in case anyone hasn’t noticed — is not a normal election. Already, Baoky Vu, a Republican elector in Georgia, has taken himself off the ballot because he could not bring himself to vote for Trump.

And Politico reported in late August that a Texas GOP elector, Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic, also had deep reservations about backing Trump.

If there is already this much public ferment over the sentiments of Republican electors, it is easy to imagine the potential firestorm if, say, Trump ekes out a hairsbreadth victory on Nov. 8. Republican electors would be monitored hourly for any signs of maverick tendencies up until the moment they cast their paper ballots for president and vice president in their respective state capitals in mid-December.

Nothing that we have learned so far in this campaign suggests that President-elect Trump would be magnanimous and reassuring in the first weeks after the election. Maybe he would start talking idly about dropping a nuclear device on ISIS or suddenly announce that Donald Jr. would make a primo justice of the Supreme Court. It doesn’t take much imagination to contemplate a wave of buyer’s remorse sweeping through the reasonable wing of the Republic Party.

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