Can Republican Delegates Be Forced to Vote for Trump?

July 06, 2016

ballotJust a few short days after Brexit rocked the world, Huffington Post Editor-In-Chief Arianna Huffington coined another term: “Trexit.” In an interview with MSNBC, Huffington pleaded with Trump supporters to “Trexit,” that is, “end [their] potential union with Trump,” and  consider voting for Hillary Clinton instead, “before it’s too late.” Several prominent Republicans have already “Trexited,” but for others, the process has proven to be easier said than done.

Virginia Republican delegate Carroll Boston Correll, Jr. filed a class action lawsuit in federal court recently on behalf of Virginia’s Republican and Democratic delegates alleging that the state laws requiring delegates to vote for their party’s candidate are unconstitutional. Although he is a Republican, Correll does not believe Donald Trump is fit to serve as President, and has said he cannot conscionably vote for the real estate mogul despite what Virginia state laws dictate. Correll is claiming that Virginia state law violates both his First Amendment right to free speech, including political speech, and his Fourteenth Amendment right to vote.

The complaint delves further into the issue, claiming that while the First Amendment “guarantees delegates to the Republican Party’s and Democratic Party’s national conventions the right to vote their conscience, free from government compulsion,” Virginia law eliminates that right, threatening criminal penalties for delegates “who vote for anyone other than the primary winner on the first ballot at a national convention.” According to Section 545(D) of Title 24.2 of the Virginia Code, if Correll were to vote for any other candidate besides Trump on the first ballot of the convention this month, he would be “subject to prosecution and criminal punishment” resulting in either jail time or a hefty $2,500 fine or both.

Further complicating this matter is an alleged conflict between the Republican Party of Virginia’s rules, which specify that Virginia delegates should be allocated proportionally, and Virginia state law (Section 545(D)), which requires that the state’s entire slate of delegates vote on the first ballot for the “candidate receiving the most votes in the primary”—i.e. Trump. As the complaint alleges: “because Donald Trump won far less than a majority of the votes in the Virginia primary, Republican Party of Virginia’s rules allocate him only 17 of 49 delegates.”  This means there is a 65% chance that, under the rules of the Republican Party of Virginia, Correll would have to vote for another candidate on the first ballot. Under Section 545(D), however, Correll could be subject to penalty if he votes for anyone other than Trump.

In response to Correll’s request for an advisory opinion on the matter, Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Winchester, Virginia, Marc Abrams reiterated that voting for a candidate other than Trump would indeed infringe upon Virginia state law, leaving Correll to suffer the consequences.

Regardless of where you stand on Mr. Correll’s claim that a delegate has the right to vote his conscience regardless of the results of a state’s primary election, in a presidential race that’s proving to be one of the most important in our nation’s history—especially now in the aftermath of Brexit—the issue of whether a delegate can be required to vote for a candidate he cannot in good conscience support should be fully explored and clearly decided, as it could significantly impact our near future. Any ambiguity regarding this matter should be quickly resolved—before it’s too late.

Photo Credit: Filipe Leal

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