Faithless Elector penalties upheld…for now

[Originally published 2017.03.16]
The fines leveled against the four Washington State Faithless Electors issued by the Washington State secretary of state, have been upheld on appeal by a state judge, the Seattle Times 

Washington State first put the Faithless Elector laws into place after Mike Padden, a Republican Elector back in 1976, voted for Ronald Reagan instead of his party’s candidate Gerald Ford.  Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 7.28.15 PM

Many states have such laws.  Most think they would not stand constitutional scrutiny. Indeed, the judge in the case seems to say as much when he notes that he doesn’t have the authority to rule on the plaintiffs’ argument that the Constitution doesn’t give the state the power to punish electors for contrary votes, but that they could argue the constitutionality of the law on appeal.


It has long been held by those who study US elections (see Professor Robert Alexander‘s response, right) that electors were free agents.


People on either side of the issues concerning the Electoral College concede that as conceived–and written–in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, electors are independent actors.  It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will agree.


This is the first election where fines have been leveled against electors.  Thus far, no one has had to appeal a fine levied by a state against a faithless elector, so no one had “standing” to bring a case, and the question has never come before the Supreme Court.  It may now.

Structural Flaws in the Electoral College

Faithless Elector, published in March 2016, was never meant as prophecy.  It’s a thriller, relying on plausibility and verisimilitude for its tension.  The events in the book remain a plausible warning because the forces shaping the book’s “world” are the very ones we confront in the real world:  an antiquated, arcane, anti-democratic process fraught with the capacity for intentional mischief or unintentional miscarriage is the process by which we select for the highest office in the land.

Today, on the History News Network site, Professor Richard Striner (Washington College, MD.) published a cogent, persuasive piece about the flaws inherent in the structure of American government, among them, the Electoral College: “America in Crisis: Dangerous Flaws in the Structure of Our Government Could Lead to Our Undoing.”


Regarding the Electoral College, Prof. Striner says:

The Founders intended the Electoral College to work as a force for enlightenment. Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist # 68, wrote that the task of selecting a distinguished person to serve as president should be made by “a small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass” who would “be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

The notion of having Electors was the product of logistical constraints more than a means of curbing the mob’s power, as is sometimes suggested.  Given the size of the United States, and the difficulty of travel in the Eighteenth century, it made a kind of sense to select people likely to have some knowledge and understanding of the candidates.  This sense, however, has been abandoned.  Now, even though “there is nothing in the Constitution requiring electoral votes in each state to be allotted by winner-take-all. . .that is the system most of the states have adopted.”

That adopted system has now now malfunctioned on five (5) occasions, awarding the presidency to a candidate who lost the popular vote:   1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016. Two of the five have (40%) have come in fewer than the last 20 years.

Faithless Elector is about a shadowy group who try to upend a presidential election by exploiting the weaknesses of the EC, with deadly consequences.

Let’s hope we never experience a calamity like that described in Faithless Elector .

 James McCrone is the author of Faithless Elector, a suspense-thriller. Publishers Weekly calls it a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.” The sequel, Dark Network, is coming in October, 2017.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available NOW through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center