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Minnesota Presidential Electors, 2016
This post imported not-too-well from WordPress to Substack. Read the original here: https://www.jamesjheaney.com/2016/11/01/minnesota-presidential-electors-2016/
When you vote for a major-party presidential candidate on Election Day, you don't actually cast a vote for that candidate. You are actually voting for a slate of presidential electors from the candidate's political party. The electors are hand-picked party loyalists elected by the party to support the party's presidential candidate.
In each state, the presidential electors from the winning party will meet in the state capitol in the third week of December. There, they will cast ballots for president (and vice-president). Those ballots will be sealed up and mailed to Congress, which will open, certify, and count them during the first week of January. Whichever candidate receives an outright majority of electoral votes (270 votes) is informed that he has been elected President of the United States. (This "electoral college" is a very good idea.) If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the Twelfth Amendment "throws" the election to the House of Representatives, which is allowed to pick any of the top three electoral college vote-getters to be President.
Although the Founding generation prepared for electoral college deadlocks to be routine, with the House picking the president from the "shortlist" determined by the electoral college, the first and last time this actually happened was in the 1824 presidential election, where John Quincy Adams beat Andrew Jackson. (The deeply disputed 1876 presidential election was ultimately decided by Congress, but without recourse to the Twelfth Amendment.)
Nevertheless, on Election Day, you don't vote for a presidential candidate; you vote for presidential electors. The electors meet. The electors decide whom to elect president. Almost without exception, they vote for their party's nominee. After all, they are chosen precisely for their loyalty, and a so-called "faithless elector," who casts his or her vote for someone other than the nominee, generally loses his or her entire political career after doing so, as the party takes swift and terrible retribution. (Some states also attempt to impose legal penalties on these electors, but Minnesota does not, and courts have generally held such laws unconstitutional anyway. UPDATE: Robert Delahunty has a good article in a recent De Novo discussing elector-binding in general and Minnesota's Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act specifically. | UPDATE II: Four years later, the Supreme Court disagreed.)
Nevertheless, they do sometimes decide to vote for someone else, and that vote counts: the Constitution demands it. If Vermont voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, and elected a slate of Democratic presidential electors, and then those electors decided to cast all three of their electoral votes for Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton, then Vermont voted for Bernie Sanders, regardless of what the voters' ballots said on Election Day. (Again, this is a good idea.)
So, given their importance in our electoral system, it seems to me a bit odd that we don't pay any attention to the electors. They are, after all, the ones you're actually voting for, not the presidential candidates. You're depending on their judgment, their wisdom, and their loyalty to their party... not to mention their nation and the Constitution. If a presumptive president-elect dies (or, cough, is indicted and steps down) between Election Day and the day the electoral college votes, it's ultimately up to the electoral college to decide who wins instead. So I think we should at least know their names!
Minnesota does not publish the names of electors anywhere. Neither do either of the major parties, as far as I could find. So I wrote to the Minnesota Secretary of State yesterday and asked for the list of presidential electors for each party. They swiftly responded with a PDF containing the names of all presidential electors and alternates for all candidates with on-ballot ballot access.
So here are Minnesota's major-party electors. I've linked to public information about each elector if I could find any. If you live in another state, you may be able to find your electors on Wikipedia. In any event, when you're deciding whom to cast your vote for on election night, I encourage you to consider not just your party's nominee, but your party's electors. After all, the electors are the ones you're actually voting for.
Here is the full PDF I received from the SecState's office.
It is worth noting that, in most states, including Minnesota, most 2016 electors were elected before the winner of the 2016 primaries were known. Some of the Republicans on this list were Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio loyalists, who were elected as electors back in March or April when many Republicans still believed Donald Trump could be (and should be) stopped. You may recall my breathless documentation of delegate loyalties during that time; now I wish I'd tracked electors as closely.
I'm sure there are similar stories on the Democratic side, though I can't say I followed them very closely, nor am I even entirely sure how the DFL chooses electors. (Sorry, Democratic readers.)
Anyway, the point is, these electors did not necessarily dive into this race because they desperately wanted to cast an electoral vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton.
And, as far as I can tell, the Republican electors (at least) have not taken any pledge to unconditionally support Mr. Trump, and the same may be true for the Democratic electors. (See MN 208.43) This is worth noting as you evaluate each elector's integrity and judgment.
UPDATE: For people with grave objections to supporting either major-party candidate, I've proposed a compromise solution based on the distinction between the electors and the candidates.