When the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution, they sought a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and tossing the decision directly to the citizenry with a popular vote.
Their solution was the Electoral College, which the National Archives and Records Administration describes as “a process, not a place.” Electors from each state meet and vote for the president and vice president, and Congress counts the electoral votes.
But is an elector required to vote the same way as his or her state’s electorate?
That depends on the state, but in Georgia, the answer is no.
Georgia’s electors in the Electoral College, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, are guided by only one state law:
“The presidential electors chosen pursuant to Code Section 21-2-10 shall assemble at the seat of government of this state at 12:00 Noon of the day which is, or may be, directed by the Congress of the United States and shall then and there perform the duties required of them by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
So it’s a matter more of attendance than performance.
But other states have ways of dealing with what are known as “faithless electors,” electors who choose to, as Ted Cruz might say, “vote their conscience” instead of following the guidance of the electorate. In 25 states and the District of Columbia, the archives says, electors are bound by state law or pledges to honor the votes of the populace or face the possibility of punishment in the form of a fine or misdemeanor charge.
The nonpartisan organization FairVote reports that going back to 1796, there have been 157 faithless electors. Of those, 71 changed their votes because the original candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College cast its votes. Three electors never cast their votes, choosing to abstain. In the remaining 82 cases, electors changed their votes on what FairVote described as “personal initiative.”
Georgia has a history in this area. In 1828, FairVote reports, seven of Georgia’s nine Democratic electors shunned their party’s nominee for vice president, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and voted for William Smith. Riding the coattails of Andrew Jackson, Calhoun became the vice president anyway.
FairVote says no faithless elector has ever changed the outcome of an election.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.