Prediction and Poll: A Third Candidate Will Get Multiple Electoral Votes

“I may get my votes yet!”

I’m ready to make a long-range prediction and if I’m right, people can come back and applaud my foresight. If I’m wrong, I’ll give you your blog subscription fee back.

A candidate other than Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will secure some electoral votes. I’m thinking 2.

I certainly don’t think a third candidate will actually win electoral votes by winning the election in any given state (or in the case of Nebraska and Maine, a single congressional district). But in many states electors are not legally bound to use their vote to reflect the will of the voters in their home state. Indeed, in only two states is an elector required to vote for their pledged candidate, while in all others with laws on the subject, the elector can only be punished after the fact for going rogue. The phenomenon of electoral votes going to a candidate who did not win their state is known as a “faithless elector.”

There have been a number of faithless electors in American history, but since 1896 no election has featured more than 1 elector breaking ranks at a time. Most people erroneously assume that the era of faithless electors is past, but in reality, since 1960 faithless electors crop up in half of all elections. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake — such as 2004 when a Minnesota elector mistakenly cast a presidential vote for “John Ewards.” But most often faithless electors make a protest vote when their pledged candidate is either bound to win big or lose anyway.

In 1960 one of Richard Nixon’s pledged delegates voted on principle for segregationist Harry Byrd. In 1968, another Nixon delegate voted for another segregationist in George Wallace. In 1972, a Republican elector voted for the Libertarian candidate. In 1988, a Democratic elector voted for Lloyd Bentsen as President, and in 2000 a D.C. elector decided not to vote in protest of D.C.’s status as a federal district.

That little “1” in the upper left? That’s what I’m talking about.

But I want to focus on one instance in relatively recent history that provides a model for this election. In 1976, Ronald Reagan ran a conservative challenge to the more moderate Gerald Ford. The primaries were close and Reagan entered the convention only narrowly behind in the delegate count. When Ford went on to defeat at the hands of Jimmy Carter, one conservative elector (who later went down for corruption…obviously) went ahead and voted for Reagan believing that Reagan would have been a better candidate all along.

I believe, based on polling and understanding the electoral map, that Barack Obama is going to win this election based on committed electoral votes. Given that I am predicting that more than one Romney elector is going to cast a protest vote. The primary season was marked by a powerful right-wing very dissatisfied with Romney’s air of inevitability bounced from Gingrich to Santorum seeking a candidate that could represent their particular brand of ideologically pure conservatism. When faced with defeat in an election that they feel should have favored Republicans, I envision a couple of faithless electors breaking ranks and voting for someone else. Maybe a felled conservative GOP primary foe like Gingrich or Santorum. Or maybe a libertarian like one of the Paul boys.

But who do you think it will it be?

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