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What Are Faithless Electors — And Can They Swing The 2020 Presidential Election?

Photo: Pamela Au
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It’s the election that seriously won’t end. 

2020 has thrown curveballs at the United States for the entirety of the year, and with the results of the most important election in our country’s history still looming over our heads, tensions are higher than ever.

The Electoral College is a big part of how we elect the president, and faithless electors are part of that, meaning these individuals could be key players in whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump gets elected.

What are faithless electors — and can they swing the 2020 presidential election?

We can skip all the constitutional mumbo jumbo and get straight to the basics. 

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Every state elects a number of candidates to the state’s Electoral College, who will then cast their vote for the president and vice president they pledged to vote for. 

Faithless electors are basically members of the United States Electoral College that vote against the president and vice president they pledged to vote for.

Can faithless electors swing the 2020 presidential election?

While it’s definitely rare, there’s always a possibility that it could happen. 

And let’s be honest: it’s the year 2020, and if we can get hit with a global pandemic, murder hornets, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle “megxiting” from the Royal Family, and the summer Olympics getting canceled (among 373 other things), then literally anything is possible.

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There were faithless electors in the 2016 election.

In the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there were 7 faithless electors, which was the most since the 1972 election:

“In 2016, there were seven faithless electors, the most since 1972—three Democratic electors from Washington state cast their votes for Republican Colin Powell, instead of Democrat Hillary Clinton; one Democratic elector from Washington state cast his vote for Faith Spotted Eagle, a woman who is a member of the Yankton Sioux Nation; one Democratic elector from Hawaii cast his vote for Bernie Sanders, instead of Hillary Clinton; one Republican elector from Texas cast his vote for John Kasich, instead of Donald Trump; and one Republican elector from Texas cast his vote for Libertarian Ron Paul.”

Is it against the law to be a faithless elector?

“Electors generally are selected by the political party for their party loyalty, and many are party leaders, and thus not likely to vote other than for their party's candidate,” the National Conference of State Legislatures website reads.

While some states do not have any consequences for Electoral College members who vote against the president and vice president they pledged to vote for, other states have penalties for members who go against their party. 

If an elector goes against his or her party in Oklahoma, they’re fined $1000. 

In North Carolina, “the fine is $500, the faithless elector is deemed to have resigned, and a replacement is appointed," while n South Carolina, "an elector who violates his or her pledge is subject to criminal penalties.”

In New Mexico, you’re slapped with a fourth-degree felony for going against your state’s party. 

In Michigan, the elector is forced to resign and is replaced. 

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Olivia Jakiel is an editor and writer who covers celebrity and entertainment news. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her zingers on Twitter