Today at the Texas State Capitol, electors will cast their votes for president of the United States. The expectation, of course, is that they will vote for the candidate who won the state’s popular vote, President-elect Donald Trump.
As most of us know, on Election Day we don’t exactly cast our ballots for a candidate. We vote for who will be among the state’s 38 electors in the Electoral College. Because more Texans voted for Republican Donald Trump, the electors will be folks chosen by the Republican Party of Texas.
“Electors make some sort of pledge when they accept the job from their party, because there is a party slate of electors,” said George Edwards, a Texas A&M political science professor and Electoral College expert. “So, there is an expectation the electors will support the candidate of that party.”
Edwards stresses that this is an expectation, not a rule. The electors may have made a pledge to the party, but Edwards says the U.S. Constitution has different ideas about what electors can do.
“At the time of the writing of the Constitution there were no political parties. States didn’t vote as blocks necessarily,” Edwards said. “So, they expected the electors to be mediators between the public and the selection of the president, and they expected them to exercise discretion.”
Some Texas electors want to use that discretion this year. Some say they aren’t going to vote for Donald Trump.
Critics call these electors “faithless electors.” They call themselves “Hamilton electors.”
One of the electors not voting for Trump is Art Sisneros.
He told The Texas Standard a few weeks ago that at first he didn’t know this is what the founders had in mind.
“I didn’t really understand the original intent and much of the history behind the Electoral College,” he said. “So I began to discover that after I won. I began to discover that after I won. I began to really examine.”
After some examination, Sisneros decided to resign. He says voting for Trump would be a “dishonor to God.”
Christopher Suprun – another Texas elector – wrote an op-ed in The New York Times asking other Republican electors to join him in voting for someone other than Trump.
All this is why state Rep. John Raney, R-Bryan, introduced a bill, House Bill 543, for next year’s session that would fine faithless electors $5,000 for violating their party’s pledge.
“I think it’s important that people who pledge to do something. such as pledge to vote for the nominee of the party, whichever party it might be, that they then follow through and do that,” Raney told KUT.
Other states have similar laws binding electors to the state’s popular vote, but they have never been tested. Edwards says those laws are flat-out unconstitutional.
He also says Raney’s bill won’t really solve a problem. Throughout American history, he says, 99 percent of electors have voted for their party’s nominee.
Edwards says that’s not a sign that electors need stricter rules. He says it’s just a sign that our Electoral College isn’t operating the way our Founding Fathers wanted.