A recent blog post discussed the case of Michael Baca, a Presidential Elector from Colorado who instead of voting for Hillary Clinton–as required by state law because she won the state’s popular vote–voted for moderate Republican John Kasich.
Along with other Electors in Colorado and elsewhere, Baca was trying to get Republican electors who might be similarly horrified by the prospect of a Trump presidency – it is hard to believe now but there were many in 2016–to help save us from that fate by diverting enough votes to throw the presidential race into the House of Representatives. The U.S. Constitution requires that when no candidate reaches the 270 votes needed for an Electoral College majority, the House determines who gets to be President from among the top three vote-getters, as has happened on three occasions.
All but two states require Electors to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote in a winner-take-all manner. Throughout history, a handful of Electors have refused to do so and they have often been referred to as Faithless Electors. Baca, however, who launched his effort with Peter Chiafalo, a Democratic Elector from Washington State, dubbed his group the “Hamilton Electors,” a name with more contemporary cachet thanks to the Broadway musical. He named it after founding father Alexander Hamilton, whose Federalist paper No. 68, described the role of Electors in making the case for having the President chosen by them, rather than by the popular vote.
The State of Colorado refused to count Baca’s vote, removed him, and replaced him with someone who then voted for Clinton. It also threatened Baca with criminal prosecution but did not carry through on the threat.
Baca sued and on August 20, 2019, the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that states, though they determine how Electors are chosen, cannot dictate to them how they vote, no remove them or punish them for their votes. “The text of the Constitution makes clear that states do not have the constitutional authority to interfere with presidential electors who exercise their constitutional right to vote for the President and Vice President candidates of their choice,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn B. McHugh, in Baca v. Colorado Department of State. She was joined by Judge Jerome A. Holmes in the 2-1 ruling, with the third judge on the panel, Mary Beck Briscoe, dissenting based on her view that the case was moot.
Now a similar challenge brought by three Hamilton Electors, Chiafalo v. State of Washington, aims to bring the question of Elector discretion before the U.S. Supreme Court. Continue reading SCOTUS Asked to Decide re Hamilton Electors