The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to take up two cases related to the Electoral College concerning whether a state can bind a presidential elector to vote for the states’ popular vote winner.
The court’s decision to step in thrusts the justices into yet another high passion political fight in the heat of the 2020 presidential election. It comes as some predict that the volatile political atmosphere and disputes over redistricting could further emphasize the role of the Electoral College in the upcoming election.
Three presidential electors in Washington state who voted for Colin Powell in 2016 rather than Hillary Clinton were fined under state law.
In May, the Washington state Supreme Court held that the state could regulate the vote of an elector either directly or indirectly.
But in August, a federal appeals court ruled that a similar Colorado law was unconstitutional. There, one elector had cast his vote for then Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, causing the state to throw out his electoral vote. Two other Colorado electors who wanted to vote for Kasich then voted for Clinton.
“There is nothing in the federal Constitution” that allows a state to remove an elector or nullify his vote, a three-judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals held. “The states may not interfere with the electors’ exercise of discretion in voting for the President and Vice President.”
Most states currently require some kind of a pledge from an elector to vote for the party’s candidate.
The Washington state challenge is brought by Peter Bret Chiafalo, Levi Jennet Guerra and Esther Virginia John, who were nominated as presidential electors for the Washington Democratic Party for the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine received the most popular votes in the state for president and vice president, respectively.
The three electors voted for Powell for president. For vice president, Guerra voted for Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, John voted for Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Chiafalo voted for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
More than half of the states bind presidential electors to the outcome of the state’s popular vote for President. Although a formal challenge to an independent electoral vote has only been debated once in the country, some believe the issue could come up more frequently in the current explosive political atmosphere.