As the 2020 race heats up, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear a dispute involving the complex US presidential election system focusing on whether Electoral College electors are free to break their pledges to back the candidate who wins their state's popular vote, an act that could upend an election.
The Supreme Court will take up appeals in two cases - from Washington state and Colorado - involving electors who decided to vote in the Electoral College process for someone other than Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 even though she won the popular vote in their states. The justices will determine if such so-called faithless electors have the discretion to cast Electoral College votes as they see fit or whether states can impose restrictions including with penalties.
The case involves the complicated US presidential election system in which the winner is determined not by amassing a majority of the national popular vote but by securing a majority of the electoral votes that are allotted to the 50 US states and the District of Columbia.
Individuals who serve as Electoral College electors - typically party loyalists - cast these votes. All states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, have a winner-takes-all system awarding all electors to the presidential candidate who wins the state's popular vote.
The number of electors in each state is the sum of its two US senators and its number of members in the House of Representatives, based on population size. The District of Columbia, which is not a state, is allotted three electors.
Typically an overlooked formality, the Electoral College took on greater importance after the 2016 election, when 10 electors cast ballots for someone other than their party's candidate. That was an unusually high number of faithless electors and could have changed the outcome in five of the 58 prior U.S. presidential elections, according to legal papers in one of the appeals filed at the Supreme Court.
President Donald Trump defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by a margin of 304 to 227 Electoral College votes despite losing the popular vote nationally by about 3 million votes. Faithless electors could change the outcome of presidential elections with thinner Electoral College margins.
Trump is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. His administration did not take a side in either case.