Faithless in West Virginia


Monday morning on KFAQ, Michael DelGiorno, Gwen Freeman, and I were discussing the Electoral College, and the oft-forgotten reality that when you vote in the presidential race in Oklahoma, you're really voting for a slate of electors who will go to the State Capitol in December to cast the only votes that really matter for President and Vice President. Here's one of Tulsa County's sample ballots to illustrate the point (PDF format). Note that next to where you mark the ballot is a bracket containing the names of the seven electors nominated by the political party.

In most states, the political parties choose electors for their slate based on their years of service to the party and the expectation that the electors will remain faithful to their pledge to support the party's nominee. Oklahoma Republicans selected one elector nominee in each of our five congressional district conventions (which also selected three delegates and three alternates each), and then approved two electors, nominated by the state executive committee, at the state convention.

In some states, electors are bound by law to vote as pledged for their party's nominees. (Here are the state-by-state rules from 2000.) In Oklahoma, electors take an oath and are subject to fine if they violate that oath, but it is not known whether such penalties would be upheld by the Supreme Court. Here is an article, also from 2000, that looks at the legal issues, and past court rulings that might have a bearing on the question. In many states, electors are not bound by law or there are no legal penalties for voting contrary to pledge. (A defection would certainly mark the end of an elector's involvement in his political party, particularly if the defection mattered to the final result.)

West Virginia is such a state, and one of the five Republican nominees for elector has expressed his openness, if elected, to voting for someone other than President George W. Bush. Richie Robb is the mayor of South Charleston, West Virginia, and finished fourth in the Republican primary for Governor, which is apparently how he was chosen to be an elector. I can't find the reference, but I recall reading that the West Virginia Republican Party decided to nominate the five runners-up in the primary for Governor as the elector nominees. They didn't bother to find out whether all of them were Bush loyalists or not. Richie Robb is not a Bush loyalist.

It is often said that the presidential race is not one election, put 51 separate elections -- actually 56, when you add in the separate battles for individual congressional district electors in Maine and Nebraska. In 2000, there was talk of efforts to sway some of Bush's electors to vote for Gore out of respect for the popular vote result. If it's that close again, we may have a further 538 contests -- one each for the heart and mind and vote of each of the electors.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 26, 2004 1:05 AM.

"Voting for Bush is the most libertarian thing we can do" was the previous entry in this blog.

Tulsa County Election Board helps for voters is the next entry in this blog.

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