"Faithless Electors" are members of the Electoral College who, for whatever reason, do not vote for their party's designated candidate.
Since the founding of the Electoral College, there have been 167 faithless electors. 71 of these votes were changed because the original candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College cast its votes. 29 electors chose to abstain or cast an abnormal vote (for example, switch the president and vice presidential candidates) rather than vote for their party's nominee. The other 67 electoral votes represent electors casting their votes for a different candidate on their own initiative.
Sometimes electors change their votes in large groups, such as when 23 Virginia electors acted together in 1836. Many times, however, these electors stood alone in their decisions. As of the 2016 election, no elector has changed the outcome of an election by voting against his or her party’s designated candidate.
Despite these 167 faithless votes, and a Supreme Court ruling allowing states to empower political parties to require formal pledges from presidential electors (Ray v. Blair, 343 US 214), 18 states still do not require their members of the Electoral College to vote for their party's designated candidate.
The 32 states (plus the District of Columbia) that require faithfulness do not always include any penalty for casting a deviant vote. Of those 32 states, 11 provide that the deviant vote is cancelled and the elector replaced, two allow the vote to be counted as cast but impose a penalty on the elector, and two both cancel the vote and assess a penalty to the elector. The constitutionality of these laws was recently cast into doubt by the 10th circuit court of appeals in Baca v. Colorado Department of State, No. 18-1173 (10th Cir. 2019), which found that states may not penalize electors or cancel their votes when the electors vote for a candidate other than their party's nominee.
Here are the names, dates, and stories of the 167 faithless votes:
Although it did not impact the outcome, the 2016 election between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton included an abnormally high number of electors breaking with their political party and casting a deviant vote for President. The Democratic electors were David Bright (ME - Bernie Sanders), Muhammad Abdurrahman (MN - Bernie Sanders), Michael Baca (CO - John Kasich), Esther John (WA - Colin Powell), Levi Guerra (WA - Colin Powell), Bret Chiafalo (WA - Colin Powell), Robert Satiacum (WA - Faith Spotted Eagle), and David Mulinix (HI - Bernie Sanders). The two Republican electors were Chris Suprun (TX - John Kasich) and Bill Greene (TX - Ron Paul).
Additionally, one Texas Republican elector, Art Sisneros, withdrew after Election Day but prior to the vote of the electors and was replaced. The three electors from Maine, Minnesota, and Colorado were replaced following their deviant votes, so their votes were not reported in the final count. A total of 7 votes were counted for candidates other than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, so rather than the expected outcome of Trump 306 to Clinton 232, the final tally was Trump 304, Clinton 227, Others 7.
An unknown elector from Minnesota, pledged to vote for Democrat John Kerry, cast a presidential vote instead for Kerry’s running mate John Edwards (the elector also cast his or her vice presidential vote for Edwards). One Minnesota elector, who believed the Edwards vote must have been a mistake, said, "I'm certainly glad the Electoral College isn't separated by one vote."
Barbara Lett-Simmons, a Democratic elector from the District of Columbia, did not cast her vote in order to protest the lack of congressional representation for Washington, DC. Lett-Simmons was the first elector to abstain from voting since 1832. Her abstention did not affect the outcome of the election.
Margaret Leach, a nurse from Huntington, WV, was pledged to the Democratic Party. During the Electoral College process, Leach learned that members of the Electoral College were not required to vote for the candidates to whom they were pledged, whereupon she decided to draw more attention to the situation by switching her votes for president and vice president. She cast her presidential vote for Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, and cast her vice presidential vote for Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential candidate.
Leach tried to get other electors to join her, but hers remained the only unexpected vote.
Mike Padden, a lawyer from Spokane, WA, was pledged to vote for Gerald Ford, the 1976 Republican candidate for president. Instead Padden voted for Ronald Reagan, who had run in the Republican primary and lost. For vice president he voted for Robert Dole, Gerald Ford's running mate.
Roger L. MacBride was pledged to the Republican party of Virginia. However, in the 1972 election, MacBride did not cast his electoral vote for Richard Nixon, the Republican presidential candidate, but for John Hospers, the Libertarian presidential candidate.
He also cast his vice presidential vote for Toni Nathan, the Libertarian vice presidential candidate, (making Nathan the first woman to receive an electoral vote). MacBride ran as the Libertarian candidate for president in the next election but did not receive any electoral votes.
Dr. Lloyd W. Bailey was an elector for the Republican Party of North Carolina. He did not vote for Richard Nixon however, but for George Wallace, the presidential candidate for the American Independence Party. (Wallace received a total of 46 electoral votes).
Bailey claimed that Nixon had done some things that displeased him (like appointing Henry Kissinger and Daniel Moynihan) and so he decided not to vote for him. He also protested that he had never signed a pledge promising to vote for any particular candidate and that his vote for Wallace was justified because Wallace was the winner in Bailey’s district.
Bailey later admitted at a Senate hearing that he would have voted for Richard Nixon if his vote would have altered the outcome of the election.
Henry D. Irwin, a Republican elector from Oklahoma, was originally pledged to Richard Nixon. Irwin later admitted in an interview with CBS that he "could not stomach" Nixon. He tried to convince the Democratic and Republican electors to reject both Kennedy and Nixon as presidential candidates. His choice replacement was a combination of two conservative senators: Harry F. Byrd of Virginia and Barry Goldwater of Arizona. In fact, he sent out telegrams to the other electors.
One telegram sent to the 218 Republican electors read:
"I am Oklahoma Republican elector. The Republican electors cannot deny the election to Kennedy. Sufficient conservative Democratic electors available to deny labor Socialist nominee. Would you consider Byrd President, Goldwater Vice President, or wire any acceptable substitute. All replies strict confidence."
Irwin received several replies (about 40) from other electors but he was the only one to vote against his designated party. He cast his electoral votes for Byrd and Goldwater.
In the same election 14 unpledged electors (eight from Mississippi and six from Alabama) cast their presidential votes for Harry Byrd. All 14 also voted for Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina as vice president. These were not faithless electors, though, as they had been elected as unpledged electors and were free to vote as they chose.
W.F. Turner, a Democratic elector from Alabama, voted for Walter Burgwyn Jones instead of the Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson. Jones was formerly a circuit court judge from Turner’s hometown.
Preston Parks was a member of Tennessee’s Democratic Party. He was appointed as one of their state electors early in the election year. Before the election, members of the Democratic Party split off and formed the States Rights party.
Parks vowed before the election to vote for Senator Strom Thurmond, the States Rights Party candidate instead of Harry Truman. Another elector also made the same pledge but ended up voting for Truman.
Thurmond, who gathered less than 3% of the popular vote, received a total of 39 electoral votes. These votes came from Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina.
In 1912, Republican Vice Presidential candidate James S. Sherman died before the election. He was President William Howard Taft's vice president and they were both running for re-election.
Eight Republican electors had pledged their votes to him but voted for Nicholas Murray Butler instead.
In 1896, two parties, the Democratic Party and the People’s Party, ran William Jennings Bryan as their presidential candidate. The two parties, though they shared a presidential candidate, nominated different candidates for vice president. The Democratic Party nominated Arthur Sewall and the People’s Party nominated Thomas 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.
The Democratic Party nominated Horace Greeley for President in 1872. However, Greeley died after the November election but before the Electoral College had cast their votes. 63 of the 66 Democratic Electors refused to give their votes to a deceased candidate. 17 of these 63 Electors abstained from voting. The other 43 Electors split their votes among three other Democratic candidates.
The Democratic Party nominated Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky as their vice presidential candidate. The 23 electors from Virginia refused to support Johnson with their votes upon learning of the allegation that he had lived with an African American woman.
With these 23 votes missing, there was no majority in the Electoral College and the decision was deferred to the Senate. In the end, the Senate voted for Johnson as the vice president.
Two National Republican Party electors from the state of Maryland refused to vote for presidential candidate Henry Clay, not voting against Clay but abstaining completely.
In the same year, all 30 electors from Pennsylvania refused to support the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Martin Van Buren, voting instead for William Wilkins.
Despite the loss of the 30 votes from Pennsylvania, Martin Van Buren was elected as the vice president. Andrew Jackson was elected as the president, receiving over 75% of the electoral votes.
In this election, seven out of the nine electors from Georgia refused to vote for vice presidential candidate John Calhoun. All seven cast their vice presidential votes for William Smith instead. Andrew Jackson won his re-election, with John Calhoun as his vice president.
William Plummer, Sr. was pledged to vote for Democratic-Republican candidate James Monroe. Instead, he cast his vote for John Quincy Adams, also of the Democratic-Republican Party, although Adams was not a candidate in the 1820 election.
The election of 1820 was the last uncontested election for President in United States history, and Plummer did not feel that the Electoral College should unanimously elect any president other than George Washington. Plummer’s vote for Adams was the only vote not cast for Monroe.
In 1820, there was also a dispute as to the validity of Missouri's three electoral votes, due to an underlying dispute regarding when Missouri achieved full statehood, leading to inconsistent reports as to the total number of electoral votes cast.
Three electors of the Federalist Party refused to cast their votes for Federalist vice presidential candidate Jared Ingersoll. All three voted instead for Elbridge Gerry, the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic-Republican Party.
Six electors from the Democratic-Republican Party refused to support James Madison, their party’s candidate for president. Instead, all three voted for George Clinton, the Democratic-Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate, for president.
Samuel Miles, of Pennsylvania, was the first elector to break a pledge to vote for a specific candidate. Miles had promised to vote for Federalist candidate John Adams, but instead cast a ballot for Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson.
While Miles did not affect the outcome of the election—Jefferson still lost by three electoral votes—his decision still earns him a dubious spot in history. A letter, published in the Gazette of the United States, expressed the attitude toward faithless electors that would persist as the dominant viewpoint: "What, do I choose Samuel Miles to determine for me whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson shall be president? No! I choose him to act, not to think."