In a rare unanimous decision for the US Supreme Court, on Monday the nine Justices ruled unanimously that states can require presidential electors to back their states’ popular vote winner in the Electoral College. The ruling arose out of a case from Washington state, essentially gives states the right to outlaw so-called "faithless electors" who cast their votes for people other than those chosen by their voters.
The decision comes just four months before the 2020 election, leaves in place laws in 32 states and the District of Columbia that bind electors to vote for the popular-vote winner, and electors almost always do so anyway.
While so-called "faithless electors" have not been critical to the outcome of a presidential election, that could change in a close race decided by just a few electoral votes. As a reminder, it takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.
When the court heard arguments by telephone in May because of the coronavirus outbreak, justices invoked fears of bribery and chaos if electors could cast their ballots regardless of the popular vote outcome in their states.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court that a state may instruct “electors that they have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens. That direction accords with the Constitution — as well as with the trust of a Nation that here, We the People rule.”
As AP adds, the justices had scheduled arguments for the spring so they could resolve the issue before the election, rather than amid a potential political crisis after the country votes.
The issue arose in lawsuits filed by three Hillary Clinton electors in Washington state and one in Colorado who refused to vote for her despite her popular vote win in both states. In so doing, they hoped to persuade enough electors in states won by Donald Trump to choose someone else and deny Trump the presidency.
The justices had scheduled arguments for the spring so they could resolve the issue before the election, rather than amid a potential political crisis after the country votes.
The closest Electoral College margin in recent years was in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush received 271 votes to 266 for Democrat Al Gore. One elector from Washington, D.C., left her ballot blank. Back then the Supreme Court played a decisive role, ending a recount in Florida, where Bush held a 537-vote margin out of 6 million ballots cast.
The justices scheduled separate arguments in the Washington and Colorado cases after Justice Sonia Sotomayor belatedly removed herself from the Colorado case because she knows one of the plaintiffs.
In asking the Supreme Court to rule that states can require electors to vote for the state winner, Colorado had urged the justices not to wait until “the heat of a close presidential election.”