What is a Faithless Elector? - Definition & History

Instructor: Jessica Mercado

I completed my BA in Criminal Justice in 2015. Currently working on my MS in Homeland Security Management.

In this lesson you will learn what a faithless elector is and what impact they have on presidential elections. Learn the history of faithless electors from elections starting in 1832, to the recent 2016 election.

Who Should I Vote For?

Suppose you are a member of the Electoral College on the Democratic side. As you listen to the debates and the campaign commercials on TV, you realize you don't like your party's primary choice. On the day that the Electoral College meets to cast votes to officially elect the next President to office, you decide to vote for the Republican candidate. You just became a faithless elector. Your decision was based on dissatisfaction with your party's primary candidate, but other reasons could play a role in the decision, including lobbying by the opposing party's supporters.

What is a Faithless Elector?

A faithless elector is an individual in the Electoral College who decides not to vote for their own registered party's candidate. Faithless electors may act alone, or join with other electors with each committing to casting their votes for a particular candidate outside their party. These decisions can either have little effect on the outcome of the election, or the effect can be substantial.

Most states bind electors of the Electoral College to the party's chosen candidate. Today, if electors do not vote with their party, they are usually fined a fee of $1,000. Fifteen states do not require their electoral college to vote for their party of registration. Those states are: Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

History Involving Faithless Electors

Since 1787, when the Electoral College was created, there have been 167 faithless electors. In 1832, all 30 members of the Electoral College from Pennsylvania chose not to vote for the vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic party, Martin Van Buren, even while voting for the Democratic presidential candidate, Andrew Jackson. This had no affect on the final vote; Van Buren was still elected along with Jackson.

The election of 1836 is the only time that faithless electors were able to sway the vote. This occurred because all the electors from Virginia, 23 in total, decided to vote against the vice-presidential candidate, Richard Johnson. The result was that no candidate received the required majority of Electoral College votes, which meant that it was up to the Senate to make the decision. The Senate ultimately overpowered the electoral vote, and chose Johnson for Vice President.

Below, is a list of the number of faithless electors each year since 1960.

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