In an 8-0 decision released Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Colorado’s law banning “faithless electors” would be upheld.
One of the cases ruled on in the decision, Colorado Department of State v. Baca, began after one presidential elector broke with the popular vote in Colorado and attempted to cast his vote for then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
“What we faced in this case is the threat of a constitutional crisis,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said during a news conference Monday. “When Coloradans vote in November, they expect their votes to be counted.”
Michael Baca, a member of a movement interested in pushing for electors’ rights to exercise independent judgment in their vote for president, challenged Colorado’s law on the grounds that the country’s founders intended for electors to have independent discretion.
But the Supreme Court did not side with that opinion. In her majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Constitution is “barebones about electors,” and therefore the decision about whether to bind them to the will of the popular vote is up to individual states.
Drew Penrose, the law and policy director for FairVote, said the issue of faithless electors was one “hiding in plain sight” as part of the presidential election process. He said it serves as a reminder that American citizens vote for electors, not the actual presidential candidate they see on the ballot.
“It shines a light on the fact that these elections are indirect and state by state,” Penrose said.
Colorado also has the potential to become a member of the National Popular Vote Coalition, a network of states hoping to bind the Electoral College to the outcome of the country’s popular vote this November. It’s one way states hope to reform the Electoral College as it has increasingly swayed the outcomes of presidential elections.
“This is an important decision for the integrity of our democracy,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “Until our country can fully reform our outdated Electoral College rules, at least the vote of the people will be reflected by our electors.”
Mike Foote, a Colorado state senator and member of the National Popular Vote campaign, said the Supreme Court’s decision was a necessary confirmation that states have the power to decide where their electoral votes will go.
“There’s a lot of information in the opinion that I think is very helpful to eliminating concerns about the national popular vote, particularly the ability of states to assign their electors in any way they see fit,” Foote said. “As it turns out, most people think it’s a good idea that the presidential candidate who received the most votes nationwide should win.”
Foote said Monday’s decision is a positive sign for the National Popular Vote’s referendum on Colorado ballots in November, which would bind electors in a pact to elect the candidate who won the popular vote in the presidential election. The pact would go into effect when 270 electors from enough states are bound via similar laws or referendums nationwide.
“Most people believe in the concept of one person one vote,” Foote said. “As the campaign goes on here in Colorado, more and more people will agree with that and vote yes on the National Popular Vote when they see it this fall.”
Jacob Wallace is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.