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With regards to the ongoing US presidential elections, I just read this on electoral-vote.com:

Could There Be Faithless Electors?

Presidential electors are supposed to vote for the person who got the most votes in their state (or for three electors in Nebraska and two in Maine, their district). But an electoral vote for someone else counts, even though it may violate state law. If the electoral vote is close, there will be intense lobbying of the electors to switch sides. Electors have received death threats in the past. No doubt some have been offered bribes as well.

This gives the impression that it would be very unusual, but still a real possibility.

My question is, when was the last time (if ever) an elector was "faithless" in US presidential elections, i.e., voted for someone else than the candidate who got the most votes in their state (or district)?

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Related: history.stackexchange.com/q/4392/961 – American Luke Nov 6 '12 at 23:05
up vote 18 down vote accepted

It actually happens fairly often. The last was in 2004, where a Minnesota elector (who would not own up to it) voted for Edwards (the VP candidate) instead of John Kerry. The assumption has been that this was done out of incompetence rather than malice.

The cycle before that, the DC elector refused to vote, in protest to DC having no congressional representation.

Wikipedia has a full list.

The last elector to cast a vote for a presidential candidate of another party was Roger MacBride in '72, who pledged to vote Republican but instead voted for the Libertarians. (Incidentally making Tonie Nathan the first woman to ever receive an electoral vote for POTUS)

The only election I can find where a faithless elector voted for the POTUS candidate from the other major party was in 1796, where Samuel Miles (our very first faithless elector) pledged to support the Federalist, but voted for the Democratic Republican (Jefferson) instead.

Answering a question in the comments, there further was never an instance where faithless electors significanly altered the results of an election. In fact, it appears that electoral votes not being particularly close may be an inducement to faithless electors, as most incidents seem to be protest votes.

There was however one interesting incident of mass-faithlessness. In the 1872 election one of the major-party POTUS candidates, (apparently as a gift to us US history nuts) died after electors were chosen but before they could cast their votes. He'd only gotten 66 of them (nowhere enough to challenge U.S. Grant), but all but three ended up voting for other people. Under the circumstances, rather than tar them as "faithless", it may be right to look further askance at the 3 who remained faithful and voted for the dead guy.

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Thanks! Looking at the list, it seems very rare though that an elector votes for the opposing main candidate instead of the one (s)he's pledged to. No such cases in recent history at least. – Jonik Nov 6 '12 at 22:19
Thanks also for the details in your updated answer; accepting this. – Jonik Nov 7 '12 at 12:39
Has it ever happened that a faithless elector changed the outcome of the US election? – SMeznaric Nov 12 '12 at 15:31
Interesting, can a dead guy be elected a president? If so, will it be the vice-president candidate to occupy the office? – Anixx Nov 12 '12 at 22:17
@SMeznaric according to here en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faithless_elector the faithless elector has never changed the outcome of the vote. – user6591 Sep 1 '15 at 1:23

One elector went for Ronald Reagan in 1976--the first time he ran, not when he won the race.:

from Wikipedia on the 1976 Electoral College results:

Washington Elector Mike Padden, pledged for Republicans Gerald Ford and Bob Dole, cast his presidential electoral vote for Ronald Reagan, who had challenged Ford for the Republican nomination. He cast his vice presidential vote, as pledged, for Dole.

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