Ohio Academic's Labors Part of U.S. Supreme Court Debate
By Csaba Sukosd | June 23, 2020
An Ohio professor's careerlong research about the Electoral College placed his work in the middle of recent U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments.
"To actually hear your name, when they actually said it in the case, to be honest with you, I started crying," said Ohio Northern University(ONU) political science professor Robert Alexander.
As one of the nation's foremost experts about the way America elects its presidents and vice presidents, Alexander's findings were referenced in a case debating whether states can legally punish electors who cast their presidential vote against the candidate they pledged to support due to the popular vote of their state.
"I started studying it because of the electors, and the more you study it, you realize, 'Hey, there are a lot of things in this that can go haywire, and a lot of ways to manipulate it based on one party's identification,'" said Alexander.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have their own electoral operation. Of those states, 32 - including Ohio - bind electors to their state's popular vote. The others are free to pick another candidate. However, electors are chosen by the political party whose candidates' won their popular vote, making "faithless electors" a rarity.
In the bound states, like Ohio, rogue electors can be replaced by an alternate, or can be fined. In two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court - Colorado Department of State v. Michale Baca and Washington v. Peter Chiafalo - the electors have argued that they can't be punished by the state, claiming the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives them the discretion to choose the candidate for whom they cast their votes.
"You can understand why there's so much confusion about what it is, what it does, and why it was created," Alexander said of the Electoral College.
The northwest Ohio native's research has spanned more than two decades and is based primarily on thousands of surveys he has conducted with electors. Questions include whether electors considered a secondary candidate, and whether they were targeted by campaigns to sway their vote. From the responses, approximately 20% contemplated voting for a competitor, and all of this group had been contacted by others to cast a faithless vote.
"It's so rare that your research as a scholar breaks that wall of academic and practical," said Alexander.
This current U.S. Supreme Court cases aren't the first time the professor has been prominently featured in debates about the topic. He's written two books; produced articles in major news outlets, such as CNN, USA Today, and HuffPost; and moderated a nationally televised symposium with previous electors at ONU in 2004. Many of the same issues discussed then were presented before the Supreme Court last month.
Even with the upcoming decision, the professor believes Electoral College disputes will continue. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, he's humbled to play a part in U.S. history.
"Never would've thought that your work could be before the Supreme Court of the United States. A poor, simple country boy would not have ever dreamed of such a thing," Alexander said.