1836 Presidential Election in Virginia
A member of the Electoral College who for whatever reason breaks with and does not vote for the candidate for whom they are pledged to vote is a faithless elector. For the most part members of the Electoral College have kept faith with their pledged candidates for president and vice president but there have been exceptions. In 21 states there is no legal requirement for the electors to follow the dictates of the party and vote for their pledged candidate.
There have been 179 electors who have deviated from their expected vote and voted faithlessly. On two different occasions the candidate to which electors were pledged died before the Electoral College voted. In one instance in 1872 Democratic candidate Horace Greeley won 66 Electoral Votes in the general election but died before the Electoral College voted, leading his votes to be divided among other candidates.
Almost always faithless electors have acted alone, risking censure or party retaliation, as well as potential criminal penalties in 29 states. To do otherwise would be to eliminate the will of the people as expressed in the popular vote. So when all the electors of a state act faithlessly it would be a clear defiance of popular will as expressed at the ballot box, an obvious negating of the right of the people to he heard through the polls.
But it has happened, in 1836, and it effected not who would win the presidency, but who would serve as his vice president. In the election of 1836, Martin Van Buren was the Democratic nominee for President with Kentucky congressman Richard M. Johnson his running mate. The opposing Whig party ran four candidates, hoping to prevent Van Buren from winning an Electoral majority through regional favoritism, allowing the House to then decide the election. Van Buren and Johnson won the popular vote and should have won enough electoral votes as well.
The entire Virginia contingent of the Electoral College supported Van Buren for president, but refused to cast ballots for Johnson as vice president, which left him short of the number needed to win the office. Their objection to Johnson was his well-known relationship with a racially mixed woman (then known as an octoroon). The vice presidential election was sent to the Senate, who elected Johnson to the office.