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In the United States, the President and Vice President are not elected directly by the people; rather, they are elected indirectly through the Electoral College process. This election procedure, governed by Amendment XII of the United States Constitution, provides that citizens cast votes for “electors” who, in turn, directly elect the president and vice president. Each state is allotted a number of electors equal to the number of House Representatives and Senators from that particular state; there are a total of 538 electors, who represent “the sum of the nation’s 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia.” In order to win the election, a presidential candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes—270 electoral votes. If there is a tie, then Amendment XII of the United States Constitution provides that the members of the House of Representatives vote to elect the President and Vice President.
In the general election, each party’s candidates correspond with “their own unique slate of potential Electors.” When a citizen casts a vote for a particular party’s candidate, he/she is in fact voting for that slate of Electors. The slate of Electors that correspond with the political party receiving the majority of the votes within a particular state “become that State’s Electors -- so that, in effect, whichever presidential ticket gets the most popular votes in a State wins all of the Electors of that State.” The two exceptions are Nebraska and Maine, whose Electors vote proportionally to the votes in those states.
While the chosen Electors are not constitutionally required to vote for the candidates of the party with which they are associated, state law and/or pledges from the political party restrict the Electors to voting only for that party’s candidate. In addition, such “faithless Electors” “may be subject to fines or may be disqualified for casting an invalid vote and be replaced by a substitute elector,” pursuant to state law. Faithless Electors have been rare, however, because “the political parties submit the names of their own electors, and those coveted spots are reserved for party loyalists who are unlikely to defect.”
The U.S. Constitution contains very few provisions relating to the qualifications of Electors. Article II, section 1, clause 2 provides that no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. As a historical matter, the 14th Amendment provides that State officials who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies are disqualified from serving as Electors. This prohibition relates to the post-Civil War era.
Each state’s Certificates of Ascertainment confirms the names of its appointed electors. A state’s certification of its electors is generally sufficient to establish the qualifications of electors.
The process for selecting Electors varies throughout the United States. Generally, the political parties nominate Electors at their State party conventions or by a vote of the party’s central committee in each State. Each candidate will have their own unique slate of potential Electors as a result of this part of the selection process.
Electors are often chosen to recognize service and dedication to their political party. They may be State-elected officials, party leaders, or persons who have a personal or political affiliation with the Presidential candidate.
On Election Day, the voters in each State choose the Electors by casting votes for the presidential candidate of their choice. The Electors’ names may or may not appear on the ballot below the name of the candidates running for President, depending on the procedure in each State. The winning candidate in each State—except in Nebraska and Maine, which have proportional distribution of the Electors—is awarded all of the State’s Electors. In Nebraska and Maine, the state winner receives two Electors and the winner of each congressional district receives one Elector. This system permits the Electors from Nebraska and Maine to be awarded to more than one candidate.
One argument critics note is the possibility for a party’s candidates to receive the required 270 electoral votes—and thereby win the election—without having won a majority of the popular votes of the citizenry. While this is true, supporters argue in response that the Electoral College system facilitates “cohesiveness of the country,” notwithstanding even the election of such a minority President. In other words, a particular candidate may hold a popular majority of the votes solely because those votes are “heavily concentrated in a few States.” If the Electoral College did not exist, and such a candidate were to win the election, then that candidate would only be representing the interests of those specific regions, and the country could become regionally divided. Instead, the Electoral College system seeks to maintain cohesiveness by ensuring a “distribution of popular support” across the country, incentivizing “presidential candidates to pull together coalitions of states and regions, rather than to exacerbate regional differences.”
There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires Electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their States. Some States, however, require Electors to cast their votes according to the popular vote. These pledges fall into two categories—Electors bound by State law and those bound by pledges to political parties.
The Office of the Federal Register presents this material for informational purposes only, in response to numerous public inquiries. The list has no legal significance. It is based on information compiled by the Congressional Research Service. For more comprehensive information, refer to the U.S. Constitution and applicable Federal laws.
Legal Requirements or Pledges
Electors in these States are bound by State Law or by pledges to cast their vote for a specific candidate:
ALABAMA – Party Pledge / State Law – § 17-19-2
ALASKA – Party Pledge / State Law – § 15.30.040; 15.30.070
CALIFORNIA – State Law – § 6906
COLORADO – State Law – § 1-4-304
CONNECTICUT – State Law – § 9-175
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – DC Pledge / DC Law – § 1-1312(g)
FLORIDA – Party Pledge / State Law – § 103.021(1)
HAWAII – State Law – §§ 14-26 to 14-28
MAINE – State Law – § 805
MARYLAND – State Law – § 20-4
MASSACHUSETTS – Party Pledge / State Law – Ch. 53, § 8, Supp.
MICHIGAN – State Law – §168.47 (Violation cancels vote and Elector is replaced.)
MISSISSIPPI – Party Pledge / State Law – §23-15-785(3)
MONTANA – State Law – § 13-25-104
NEBRASKA – State Law – § 32-714
NEVADA – State Law – § 298.050
NEW MEXICO – State Law – § 1-15-5 to 1-15-9 (Violation is a fourth degree felony.)
NORTH CAROLINA – State Law – § 163-212 (Violation cancels vote; elector is replaced and is subject to $500 fine.)
OHIO – State Law – § 3505.40
OKLAHOMA – State Pledge / State Law – 26, §§ 10-102; 10-109 (Violation of oath is a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $1000.)
OREGON – State Pledge / State Law – § 248.355
SOUTH CAROLINA – State Pledge / State Law – § 7-19-80 (Replacement and criminal sanctions for violation.)
VERMONT – State Law – title 17, § 2732
* VIRGINIA – State Law – § 24.1-162 (Virginia statute may be advisory – “Shall be expected” to vote for nominees.)
WASHINGTON – Party Pledge / State Law – §§ 29.71.020, 29.71.040, Supp. ($1000 fine.)
WISCONSIN – State Law – § 7.75
WYOMING – State Law – §§ 22-19-106; 22-19-108
No Legal Requirement
Electors in these States are not bound by State Law to cast their vote for a specific candidate:
Pledged by statute to support winning ticket? This is a tricky area: in many states which so require by law [marked "Yes" in the table], the statute specifically states that the Electors shall [or must] cast their ballots to the national ticket which received the most popular votes; in other states, the statute is not so specific- however, the language regarding how the vote of the voter is to be applied to the allocation of Electors implies just such a pledge. When in doubt, this column has been marked "No"- the reason being that these state laws pledging (or implying a pledge of) the Electors to vote for the winning national ticket are of dubious constitutionality (theoretically, the Electors- like U.S. Senators- though representing the State, are Federal officers: the State cannot legally "instruct" Federal officers which, nonetheless, represent it; thus, at least in theory, the Electors are 'free agents' who can cast their ballots for President and Vice President as they see fit- the only check on this being whether or not the Joint Session of Congress which counts and tabulates the Electoral Vote accepts the Elector's votes as valid. Keep in mind, however, that- even re: States where this column reads "No"- there may be political party intradiscipline which will keep an "appointed" Presidential Elector from not voting for the winning ticket!)
In fact, in the 2000 election, Barbara Lett-Simmons, an elector for the District of Columbia, cast a blank ballot for president and vice president in protest of the District’s unfair voting rights.