A Faithless Elector Can Drop Out If They Want

by Joanne Spataro

As Dec. 19 approaches, electors have a big decision to make: vote for the candidate that they are pledged to vote for (in the case for Republicans, President-elect Donald Trump), vote their conscience as a "faithless elector" — which could mean going against their party nominee — or resign from their position as an elector altogether. While there's a small yet robust history of faithless electors, the number of electors who have dropped out instead of casting a rogue vote seems to be even smaller.

In late November, Texas Republican elector Art Sisneros resigned and wrote a blog post about why he couldn't vote for Trump in good conscience, leaving his seat empty for an alternate elector to be voted in. "If Trump is not qualified and my role, both morally and historically, as an elected official is to vote my conscience, then I can not and will not vote for Donald Trump for president," he wrote in a Nov. 28 post on his personal website, The Blessed Path.

While Sisneros resigned, some states consider being a faithless elector, someone who votes for someone other than their party's nominee, to be a form of resignation. There's no federal law or constitutional provision requiring electors to vote for the party that nominated them, though there are states that have passed their own laws to require electors to vote as they have pledged.

A faithless elector in North Carolina is considered to have resigned, and a new elector is appointed, though the resigned elector may be subject to a $500 fine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Washington and Oklahoma, a faithless elector can be fined $1,000. In Michigan and Utah, there are no penalties for an elector who doesn't vote as he or she is required to, but that elector is replaced. There's no clear timeline on how and when electors can resign on the National Conference of State Legislatures website, and it doesn't make clear if there are differing penalties if an elector drops out weeks beforehand or not until Dec. 19 itself.

Since a faithless elector has never been prosecuted, according to the Los Angeles Times, electors who resign before or on Dec. 19 will likely do so without being prosecuted as well. This in itself seems like a rare scenario. With the pressure to vote for their party nominee already, coupled with the public backlash Sisneros faced after his resignation at the end of last month, electors will likely either quietly cast faithless votes or vote for their party nominee, even if they have to hold their nose while doing it.