WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can require their presidential electors to vote in accordance with the election results in their states following a challenge of so-called “faithless electors” in Washington state and Colorado.
The ruling, just under 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. Electors almost always do so anyway; however, faithless electors could be critical to the outcome of a very close presidential election.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Electors argued in a pair of cases that penalizing them for voting based on their opinions rather than the majority of voters in a given state was unconstitutional. However, in a unanimous decision handed down Monday, justices disagreed.
In the court's majority opinion, Associate Justice Elena Kagan noted that the Supreme Court previously affirmed that state officials have the authority to compel electors to pledge support for the nominee chosen by voters.
“Today, we consider whether a State may also penalize an elector for breaking his pledge and voting for someone other than the presidential candidate who won his State’s popular vote,” Kagan wrote. “We hold that a State may do so.”
The court reviewed a case involving faithless electors in Washington, where four presidential electors voted for candidates other than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who won the state's popular vote in 2016. The state fined the electors $1,000, prompting a court battle.
Justices also reviewed a separate case in which a Democratic elector in Colorado had his vote for Republican Gov. John Kasich, of Ohio, invalidated.
In the past 58 presidential elections, 165 Electoral College electors have not cast their votes for president or vice president as prescribed by their state. None of those votes changed the outcome of the elections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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