Time to consider binding Texas electoral voters? Yes, says one top state official

President-elect Donald Trump
President-elect Donald Trump AP

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has a big problem with some Republicans elected to represent voters in the Electoral College.

First, one elector resigned rather than cast a vote later this month for Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

Then, another said he couldn’t vote for Trump — or Democrat Hillary Clinton — and is trying to decide who should get his vote.

“It’s a slap across the face to all the people who voted for Donald Trump to be president in Texas,” Patrick said during a radio interview with Chris Salcedo on WBAP. “They deserve to have every electoral vote [go to Trump] because he won soundly in Texas.”

That’s why Patrick said Wednesday that 2017 might be the time for Texas lawmakers to consider a bill binding the vote of future Texas Electoral College voters and requiring them to vote for the person who wins the statewide popular vote.

Some states do bind Electoral College voters, even requiring them to pay fines if they waver.

Texas law doesn’t penalize so-called “faithless” electors.

But when Dallas paramedic Christopher Suprun announced he won’t vote for Trump — despite signing a GOP pledge saying he would support the party’s nominee — Patrick said lawmakers might need to look at this issue.

“This is the type of act by an individual that will probably prompt us in this upcoming session … to look passing a law … that says electors must follow the will of the people,” Patrick said. “I thought that people in Texas here who run for elector here would keep their word.”

Not everyone agrees with binding electors.

Texas electors will head to the state Capitol Dec. 19 to cast their presidential votes.

“It’s unconstitutional,” said Alex Kim, a Bedford attorney and an elector this year. “The founding fathers wanted the electors to be free to do what they wanted to do.

“I would do everything I could to prevent” such a proposal from becoming law, he said. “It’s constraining the free will of voters and saying they are token voters. I think every voter in every election should be able to cast a vote freely.”

Electoral College

On Dec. 19, 538 Electoral College voters across the country will head to their state capitols to cast their ballots.

In Texas, only 37 will be in Austin that day, since voter Art Sisneros of Dayton resigned last month rather than vote for Trump, a man he doesn’t consider “biblically qualified” to serve in the White House.

One of the first orders of business in Texas will be to propose a replacement for Sisneros and approve that replacement. Once that person is approved and sworn in, electors will proceed to cast their ballots.

After the votes are cast here and in all the other states, the ballots will be sent to Vice President Joe Biden, who will read them to both houses of Congress on Jan. 6, unless Congress changes the date. Once Biden reads the results to Congress, the results are official and final.

The Electoral College, which has long drawn criticism from those who believe it’s an antiquated system, dates back to the late 1700s as the name given to a group of citizens chosen to formally cast the final vote for president and vice president.

The last time the Electoral College fell under such scrutiny was in 2000, when George W. Bush won 271-266 over Democrat Al Gore.

The last time the Electoral College fell under such scrutiny was in 2000, when George W. Bush won 271-266, (one voter abstained) even though Democrat nominee Al Gore won the nation’s popular vote.

Facing threats

Electoral College voters in Texas and across the country have been swamped with emails, letters and phone calls from Democrats and others who have asked, threatened or tried to bully them into voting for anyone other than Trump.

Each Texas Electoral College voter signed a pledge at the state convention promising to support the party’s nominee. But Supran said he couldn’t support Trump because he has yet to act presidential.

“Mr. Trump goes out of his way to attack the cast of Saturday Night Live for bias,” Suprun wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “He tweets day and night, but waited two days to offer sympathy to the Ohio State community after an attack there. He does not encourage civil discourse, but chooses to stoke fear and create outrage. This is unacceptable.”

Patrick said Supran had a very good idea when he was chosen for the Electoral College that Trump likely would be the GOP presidential nominee.

And he thinks he may be trying to make a name for himself with this decision.

“This man has a moment in history,” Patrick said, adding that “he will quickly disappear” and simply become a “footnote in history.”

But Supran could have a bigger claim to fame after Dec. 19.

“We’re going to take a look at legislation to address [this situation] moving forward,” Patrick said.

Moving forward

No such legislative proposal has been filed yet.

But some local lawmakers say it might not be a bad idea.

“They already take an oath binding them,” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills. “Apparently a binding oath doesn’t mean much to this elector. That part I didn’t see being reported.

“Maybe it needs strengthening since their ‘oath’ doesn't mean as much.”

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, disagrees.

“While I respect those who have a difference of opinion, I believe strongly that the electors of the Electoral College should not be in any way restricted or bound by state laws,” she said. “Our founding fathers entrusted the electors with the duty of selecting our president and it is incumbent upon the people to select qualified electors who reflect our values and priorities.”

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said he likely could consider such a proposal if it makes its way through the Legislature next year.

“Part of me says you never want to make someone go against their conscience,” he said. “But if you think there’s a chance you can’t support the party’s nominee, you probably shouldn’t sign up for that position in the first place.”

The only bill involving the Electoral College that has been filed so far for the 85th Legislature is House Bill 496, which would require the president to be elected by the popular vote, rather than through the Electoral College.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley