Two states asking Supreme Court for permission to regulate Electoral College conduct
Colorado has become the second state to ask the Supreme Court to decide if states may legally bind their presidential electors to vote for the candidate who carried their state.
The issue of so-called faithless electors is the latest aspect of an increasingly heated debate about the virtues and flaws of the Electoral College that has blossomed, especially among progressive democracy reform advocates, now that two of the past five presidential winners (Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000) got to the Oval Office despite losing the national popular vote.
Last week, three electors from Washington — who were fined for voting for Colin Powell in 2016 instead of Hilary Clinton, the state's popular vote winner — filed a similar petition with the court. The fines were upheld by the state Supreme Court but overturned by a federal appeals court.
One of Colorado's nine electors also refused to vote for Clinton despite an order by the state's top elections official, who subsequently replaced the elector with someone who did. The elector sued, arguing a state law that mandates which candidate an elector must vote for was unconstitutional.
Twenty-eight states have laws binding an elector's vote to the winner of the popular vote, but neither the Constitution nor federal law requires that Electoral College members adhere to state results.
A lower court dismissed the Colorado case, saying the elector was not eligible to sue. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver — the same court that heard the Washington case — reversed part of the decision, however, saying the elector could challenge his dismissal.
At a news conference Wednesday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who filed the petition with the Supreme Court, said the issue represented "a threat to the shared understanding of how our constitutional democracy works."
"Voters are expecting their votes to be delivered," said Weiser, a Democrat.
Coloraod's Democratic secretary of state, Jena Griswold, defended the state's law intended to prevent faithless electors. "The idea that nine electors in Colorado that are unelected, unaccountable and that Coloradans really don't know could disregard our state law and the outcome of the general election is really unfathomable," she said. "This is a major decision, and we are hopeful the Supreme Court will do the right thing and protect our constitutional democracy."
More voters see "corruption in our political system" as the country's most pressing problem than any of the other issues getting greater attention in the 2020 campaign, new polling shows.
The online survey conducted in September asked voters whether seven different issues were an "extremely serious problem" for the country, and the only one where a majority said yes was political corruption; rising health care costs came in second at 49 percent.
The poll is only the latest to declare the electorate's dire concern about the broken political system. In just the last month, two-thirds of voters told one poll they believe the country is on the "edge of a civil war" and a plurality in another poll identified the government itself as the country's biggest problem.
But the topic of democracy reform is getting hardly any mention in the presidential race. Though most of the Democratic candidates have plans for limiting money in politics, making voting easier, securing elections and restoring the balance of powers, few have emphasized these ideas on the trail. And President Trump, who four years ago ran as the candidate most interested in "draining the swamp," rarely mentions this aspiration anymore.
A Democratic advocacy group has filed a third lawsuit in less than a month challenging Michigan laws and policies it says restrict voting rights.
The focus on Michigan voting laws by the super PAC Priorities USA reflects the importance of the state's 16 electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election. President Trump won Michigan, a swing state, by less than half a percentage point in 2016.
The latest lawsuit, filed Friday in state court, challenges actions taken after a successful 2018 ballot initiative expanded voting options, such as allowing people to register to vote at any time (including on Election Day). It also automatically registered people to vote when they obtained or renewed their driver's licenses.