The Supreme Court ruled uninimously on Monday that states can prohibit electors from trying to cast votes in the Electoral College that don’t match the popular vote of that state.
The ruling preserves the integrity of the Electoral College and prevents it from being effectively changed to a national popular vote system by allowing electors to vote for candidates that won the national popular vote, but not the popular vote in their state.
The lawsuit was provoked by electors upset that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 by over 2 million votes, but Donald Trump won the Electoral College.
A few Republican electors tried to vote for other candidates in the 2016 election in an effort to deny Trump the majority he needed to win, but it didn’t make enough of a difference.
SCOTUS: No messing with Electoral College
In the case before them, Washington State fined three Democratic electors $1,000 each for voting for former Secretary of State Colin Powell instead of Hillary Clinton. The electors hoped Republican electors would follow suit and not vote for Trump.
“Nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits States from taking away presidential electors’ voting discretion as Washington does,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the decision.
Kagan also wrote that the decision upheld “a longstanding tradition in which electors are not free agents; they are to vote for the candidate whom the State’s voters have chosen.”
There was a related challenge from a Colorado Democratic elector, who was removed for voting for former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) instead of Clinton, in which Colorado’s right to do so was also upheld.
“Vote of the people” should matter, court affirms
“Today, the United States Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed the fundamental principle that the vote of the people should matter in choosing the President,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) said in a statement. “If we had not been successful, many observers, including several justices, noted the upcoming elections could have been thrown into ‘chaos.’”
Historically, the popular vote winner usually also wins the Electoral College. Notably, however, the electoral system allows the possibility that popular votes and the Electoral College might not match up every time.
When high population states like California, New York and Texas have high numbers of votes for one candidate, it may push the popular vote total in the opposite direction from the Electoral total as happened in 2016.
Millions more Democrats in heavily Democrat-dominated New York and California voted for Clinton in 2016, which accounted for her popular vote lead.