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Faithless electors are members of the United Statesmarker Electoral College who do not cast their electoral votes for the people they have pledged to vote for. Faithless electors are pledged electors and thus different from unpledged electors.

On 158 occasions, electors have cast their votes for President or Vice President in a manner different from that prescribed by the legislature of the state they represented. Of those, 71 votes were changed because the original candidate died before the elector was able to cast a vote. Two votes were not cast at all when electors chose to abstain from casting their electoral vote for any candidate. The remaining 85 were changed by the elector's personal interest, or perhaps by accident. Usually, the faithless electors act alone. An exception was the U.S. presidential election of 1836, in which 23 Virginiamarker electors conspired to change their vote together.

Political parties choose their slate of electors in each state, and they generally select party members with a reputation for high loyalty to the party and its candidate. Moreover, a faithless elector runs a risk of censure and other political retaliation from his party. Thus, the parties have generally been successful in keeping their electors faithful, leaving out the cases in which a candidate died before the elector was able to cast a vote.

Twenty-four states have laws to punish faithless electors. While no faithless elector has ever been punished, the constitutionality of state pledge laws was brought before the Supreme Courtmarker in 1952 (Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 214). The court ruled in favor of the state's right to require electors to pledge to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged, as well as to remove electors who refuse to pledge. Once the elector has voted, their vote can only be changed in states such as Michiganmarker and Minnesotamarker, where votes other than those pledged are rendered invalid. However, in all twenty-four states, a faithless elector may only be punished after he or she votes. The Supreme Court has ruled that, as electors are chosen via state elections, they act as a function of the state, not the federal government. Therefore states have the right to govern electors. The constitutionality of state laws punishing electors for actually casting a faithless vote, rather than refusing to pledge, has never been decided by the Supreme Court.

To date, faithless electors have never changed the otherwise expected outcome of the election. No faithless elector has ever been punished or charged with a crime.

List of faithless electors

Electors do not have to vote for the candidate who received the most votes in any particular state. The following is a list of all faithless electors (most recent first). The number preceding each entry is the number of faithless electors for the given year.

2000 to present

(1) 2004 election: A Minnesotamarker elector, pledged for Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards, cast his or her presidential vote for

John Ewards [sic], rather than Kerry, presumably by accident. (All of Minnesota's electors cast their vice presidential ballots for John Edwards.) Minnesota's electors cast secret ballots, so unless one of the electors claims responsibility, it is unlikely that the identity of the faithless elector will ever be known. As a result of this incident, Minnesota Statutes were amended to provide for public balloting of the electors' votes and invalidation of a vote cast for someone other than the candidate to whom the elector is pledged.

(1) 2000 election: Washington, D.C.marker Elector Barbara Lett-Simmons, pledged for Democrats Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, cast no electoral votes as a protest of Washington D.C.'s lack of statehood, which she described as the federal district's "colonial status."

1972 to 1996

(1) 1988 election: West Virginiamarker Elector Margaret Leach, pledged for Democrats Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen, instead cast her votes for the candidates in the reverse of their positions on the national ticket; her presidential vote went to Bentsen and her vice presidential vote to Dukakis.

(-) 1984 election: In Illinoismarker, the electors, pledged to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, conducted their vote in a secret ballot. When the electors voted for Vice President, one of the votes was for Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic nominee. After several minutes of confusion, a second ballot was taken. Bush won unanimously in this ballot, and it was this ballot that was reported to Congress.

(1) 1976 election: Washingtonmarker Elector Mike Padden, pledged for Republicans Gerald Ford and Bob Dole, cast his presidential electoral vote for Ronald Reagan, who had challenged Ford for the Republican nomination. He cast his vice presidential vote, as pledged, for Dole.

(1) 1972 election: Virginiamarker Elector Roger MacBride, pledged for Republicans Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, cast his electoral votes for Libertarian candidates John Hospers and Theodora Nathan. MacBride's vote for Nathan was the first electoral vote cast for a woman in U.S. history. MacBride became the Libertarian candidate for President in the 1976 election.

1912 to 1968

(1) 1968 election: North Carolinamarker Elector Lloyd W. Bailey, pledged for Republicans Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, cast his votes for American Independent Party candidates George Wallace and Curtis LeMay.

(1) 1960 election: Oklahomamarker Elector Henry D. Irwin, pledged for Republicans Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., cast his presidential electoral vote for Democratic non-candidate Harry Flood Byrd and his vice presidential electoral vote for Republican Barry Goldwater. (Fourteen unpledged electors also voted for Byrd for president, but supported Strom Thurmond, then a Democrat, for vice president.)

(1) 1956 election: Alabamamarker Elector W. F. Turner, pledged for Democrats Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver, cast his votes for Walter Burgwyn Jones and Herman Talmadge.

(1) 1948 election: Two Tennesseemarker electors were on both the Democratic Party and the States' Rights Democratic Party slates. When the Democratic Party slate won, one of these electors voted for the Democratic nominees Harry Truman and Alben Barkley. The other, Preston Parks, cast his votes for States' Rights Democratic Party candidates Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright, making him a faithless elector.

(8) 1912 election: Republican vice presidential candidate James S. Sherman died before the election. Eight Republican electors had pledged their votes to him but voted for Nicholas Murray Butler instead.

1860 to 1896

(4) 1896 election: The Democratic Party and the People’s Party both ran William Jennings Bryan as their presidential candidate, but ran different candidates for Vice President. The Democratic Party nominated Arthur Sewall and the People’s Party nominated Thomas E. Watson. The People’s Party won 31 electoral votes but four of those electors voted with the Democratic ticket, supporting Bryan as President and Sewall as Vice President.

(6) 1892 election: In Oregon, three electors voted for Democrat Grover Cleveland, and one for the third-party Populist candidate. All four were pledged to Republican President Benjamin Harrison, who failed to get reelected. Also, in North Dakota, one elector voted for the Democrats and one for the Populists, while the Republicans had won the state.

(63) 1872 election: 63 electors for Horace Greeley changed their votes after Greeley's death, which occurred before the electoral vote could be cast. Greeley's remaining three electors cast their presidential votes for Greeley and had their votes discounted by Congress.

(4) 1860 election: 4 electors in New Jersey, pledged for Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, voted for the eventual victor: Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln.

1812 to 1836

(23) 1836 election: The Democratic Party nominated Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentuckymarker as their vice presidential candidate. The 23 electors from Virginiamarker refused to support Johnson with their votes upon learning of the allegation that he had lived with an African-American woman. There was no majority in the Electoral College and the decision was deferred to the Senate, which supported Johnson as the Vice President.

(32) 1832 election: Two National Republican Party electors from the state of Marylandmarker refused to vote for presidential candidate Henry Clay and did not cast a vote for him or for his running mate. All 30 electors from Pennsylvaniamarker refused to support the Democratic vice presidential candidate Martin Van Buren, voting instead for William Wilkins.

(7) 1828 election: Seven (of nine) electors from Georgiamarker refused to vote for vice presidential candidate John Calhoun. All seven cast their vice presidential votes for William Smith instead.

(1) 1820 election: William Plumer pledged to vote for Democratic Republican candidate James Monroe, but he cast his vote for John Quincy Adams who was also a Democratic Republican, but was not a candidate in the 1820 election. Some historians contend that Plumer did not feel that the Electoral College should unanimously elect any President other than George Washington, but this claim is disputed. (Monroe lost another three votes because three electors died before casting ballots and were not replaced.)

(4) 1812 election: Three electors pledged to vote for Federalist vice presidential candidate Jared Ingersoll voted for Democratic Republican Elbridge Gerry. One Ohiomarker elector did not vote.

Before 1812

(6) 1808 election: Six electors from New Yorkmarker were pledged to vote for Democratic Republican James Madison as President and George Clinton as Vice President. Instead, they voted for Clinton to be President, with three voting for Madison as Vice President and the other three voting for James Monroe to be Vice President.

(-) 1800 election: New Yorkmarker elector Anthony Lispenard demanded to be able to cast a secret ballot, rather than a public one as state law required, apparently because he wanted to cast both of his votes for Aaron Burr instead of one each for Burr and Thomas Jefferson. This demand was necessary to force Burr's election as President, since voting for Burr and someone else would have (in theory) simply created a deadlock in the electoral college and a run-off vote, which Jefferson would have likely won. However, Lispenard's demand was rejected by the state, and he voted as pledged, for Jefferson and Burr. Ironically, errors in the Democratic-Republican voting strategy meant that Jefferson and Burr ended up tying 73-73 in the electoral college, meaning that Lispenard could have caused Burr to become President all along by simply not casting his second vote, or voting for someone who was not a candidate, although he had no way of knowing this would be the case when he voted.

(1) 1796 election: Samuel Miles, an elector from Pennsylvaniamarker, was pledged to vote for Federalist presidential candidate John Adams, but voted for Democratic Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson. He cast his other presidential vote as pledged for Thomas Pinckney. (This election took place prior to the passage of the 12th Amendment, so there were not separate ballots for president and vice president.)


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