DENVER (CBS4) – U.S. Supreme Court Justices talked about bribery, chaos and even a hobbit from the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a Colorado case that could upend the electoral college system. At issue – whether states can punish so-called “faithless electors,” who don’t vote for the winner of their state’s popular vote.

“It has been an extraordinary 3 1/2 years since I voted,” said Micheal Baca, the elector at the center of the case.

Michael Baca (credit: CBS)

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Colorado, but Baca voted for someone else, and his ballot was tossed, and he was replaced. He sued, and it went all the way to the nation’s highest court. It heard the arguments Wednesday by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Justice Kavanaugh asked a good question. ‘What is the role of the electoral college?’ said Baca after arguments ended. “If we’re not supposed to have discretion, then why do we have 538 people in that office? Why not move to a direct election?”

But justices also questioned the consequences of a system where electors are free agents, saying it could lead to chaos and bribery.

Michael Baca (credit: CBS)

Justice Clarence Thomas noted electors could vote for anyone, even the Lord of the Rings hobbit Frodo Baggins.

Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser said that is why states need to penalize electors who break their pledge and the constitution, he says, doesn’t limit their authority.

“I do believe the point of allowing states to have this plenary authority over electors. It’s fundamental to our elections system. If the state legislature loses that power, and all electors have to be free agents, then we’ve abandoned our election system.”

The high court’s decision to take up the case now is a sign of its significance in this election year. A decision is expected by July.

Whatever the ruling, Baca says, the system is moving toward change.

Michael Baca (credit: CBS)

“Having people being able to vote for presidents directly is going to be the ultimate solution.”

Coloradans will vote in November whether to support a system where the presidential election is decided based on the national popular vote.

Shaun Boyd