clock menu more-arrow no yes

A likely GOP Electoral College member threatens to withhold his vote from Trump

Donald Trump
Donald Trump.

Update (8 pm): Galloway reports that Vu has resigned as an elector. Potential crisis averted!

Original story: The state of Georgia will have 16 electoral votes in this year’s presidential election. So you’d think that would mean that if Trump won the state, he’d get all 16 votes.

But perhaps not. Those 16 votes will all be cast by actual people — the state’s electors. And, according to a new article by the Atlantic Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway, one of the people who would be a Georgia elector if Trump won in the state is so anti-Trump that he’s openly musing about withholding his vote from the nominee.

Baoky Vu, a GOP activist and a vice president of a tech firm who's on the Republicans' elector slate, has said he will not vote for Trump in the general election because Trump’s "antics and asinine behavior has cemented my belief that he lacks the judgment, temperament, and gravitas to lead this Nation."

Much more importantly, Vu told Galloway that if Trump wins the state, he might well cast the electoral vote he'd then be entitled to cast for a write-in candidate instead. "I have the right to vote for a write-in candidate in the [Electoral College]," Vu said.

This would be very bad for democratic legitimacy. And the Electoral College should really be reformed to prevent this.

Vu is playing with fire here. If he were looking for a way to validate Trump’s currently baseless statements that the election will be "rigged," he could hardly find a better one. If he followed through on what he’s suggesting here — and if other Republican electors did the same — to defy the popular will, it would wreak havoc on democratic legitimacy.

Vu’s remarks also call attention to the antiquated design of the Electoral College, which is a very strange system indeed.

Though we think of our presidential election as a democratic contest in the various states, the 538 electors who will actually pick the president are all people, often chosen through obscure processes determined by state legislatures.

It’s a system that has worked reasonably well in normal times, since the vast majority of electors tend to be party loyalists and have simply gone along with the popular vote in their states. But this odd design presents the opportunity for a lot of mischief in the event of some electoral crisis.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 30 of the 50 states have passed laws "binding" the electors to vote in accordance with the presidential popular vote in their state. But that still leaves 20 or so states, including Georgia, that have not done so — in those states, electors are technically free to vote as they choose.

And there’s a history of rogue, faithless, or just plain incompetent electors. For instance, in 2000 an elector from Washington, DC, withheld an electoral vote from Al Gore, because she wanted to protest the fact that DC didn’t have representation in Congress. In 2004, an elector from Minnesota who was supposed to vote for John Kerry for president instead voted for John Edwards. (It’s believed that this was an accident, but since the votes were cast anonymously, we don’t really know for sure. Great system!)

The actual outcome of the presidential race wasn’t affected in either of these cases. But we could really use some reforms to ensure that our president isn’t determined by the whims of a few electors.


The bad map we see every presidential election

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.