ANNAPOLIS – With the presidential election too close to call, the 538 members of the Electoral College hold a lot of power – power that some legal experts say can’t be checked.
Maryland’s 10 electors are bound by oath and by statute to vote for the state’s winning candidate, “but there is a question whether that (oath) is really binding,” said Abraham Dash, University of Maryland School of Law professor.
“The point is, the law itself may be unconstitutional,” said Dash who explained that state laws that require faithfulness to the popular vote may be more restrictive than the Constitution, and therefore could be declared unconstitutional in a challenge.
Each state gets as many electors as it has U.S. representatives and senators. Before the general election, the state’s political parties (six in Maryland), submit a list of people that will become electors if their candidate wins the plurality of votes in the state.
The electors of the winning party, in this case Democrats, will gather in the State House Dec. 18 to cast their votes. It takes a minimum of 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.
The nation is on tenterhooks awaiting final vote totals in Florida, whose 25 electoral votes would put either Republican George Bush, with 246, or Democrat Al Gore, with 255, in the White House.
The Electoral College vote should be predictable, but hasn’t always been.
Most recently, in 1988, a West Virginia elector who was supposed to vote for Michael Dukakis voted for Lloyd Bentsen instead. That elector is what has come to be known as a “faithless elector.”
There have only been a handful of these so-called “faithless electors” in the past, none from the Free State. Maryland’s political party heads have tried to avoid any rogue voters by selecting faithful party-liners like Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s.
“I am a Democrat and I voted for Al Gore and I intend to vote for Al Gore,” said Miller, a Maryland elector.
Typically, a party’s electors are well known to them. For example, before Beatrice Tignor was selected as an elector she had been a senator and state delegate and now is serving a four-year term as a Democratic National Committeewoman.
“I do plan to be faithful to the party,” Tignor, of Upper Marlboro, said.
“There’s nothing binding between the elector and the decision he or she makes,” said Tignor, although she did say that a “faithless elector” would be shunned by his or her party.
Election officials say it’s possible that the punishment may be greater than that.
In Maryland’s election code, it states that if officials of a political party neglect their official duties, they are subject to a fine between $50 and $1,000 or imprisonment for between 30 days and 3 years or both.
But it is unclear whether the electors are officials of a political party.
“I guess maybe they could be, I don’t know,” said Judith Armold, counsel for election laws in Maryland. “If the question comes up and I have to address it, then fine, I will address it.”