On Nov. 3, Pennsylvania voters will cast votes for president. About five weeks later, on Dec. 14, 20 Pennsylvanians designated by the winning candidate as electors will convene in Harrisburg to formally cast their votes for the winner. On Jan. 6, 2021, Congress will count those votes, together with the electoral votes cast in the 49 other states and the District of Columbia. The candidate with 270 or more electoral votes becomes president.
Except it’s not that simple.
Here’s why: Those electors in Harrisburg aren’t actually required to cast votes for the candidate who won the Pennsylvania popular vote. Some states have laws explicitly directing electors how to vote, removing them if necessary, while others impose fines on so-called faithless electors after the fact. But Pennsylvania does neither (nor does New Jersey) — and it’s unclear whether states can force the electors to comply anyway. Indeed, in 2016, seven electors across the country cast votes for people who weren’t Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, instead choosing to vote for Colin Powell, Bernie Sanders, and John Kasich. In 2000, even fewer electoral votes separated George W. Bush from Al Gore.
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