The Electoral College-All You Ever Wanted to Know
by Alex in General / 11.04.08
After the 2000 election, most people know that we do not elect a president by popular vote here in the United States. The name for the system we use is an “indirect election.” We actually vote for ‘electors’ who pledge their vote for a certain candidate and are apportioned based on state population. The Electoral College process is actually quite complicated, so I will give my brief overview, and then provide some links for further research.
What it is:
The Electoral College is equal in size to Congress (435 House Representatives + 100 Senators) plus 3 electors for the District of Columbia, for a total of 538 electors. Each state is allotted a certain number of electors equal to the number of its Congressional representatives (which are based on state population). Washington, D.C. is allotted the same number of electors as the least populous state by the 23rd Amendment (currently equal to Wyoming’s 3).
The electors pledge in advance to vote for a certain candidate, and are elected to vote for president based on the votes of their home state. 48 states select electors based on a popular vote, but two, Maine and Nebraska, split the selection of electors between votes within congressional districts, and state-wide populous votes. A candidate must win a majority of the electoral votes to be elected President (currently 270).
The Electoral College was adopted as a compromise between a popular vote and selection of the president by the legislature. Initially, The Virginia Plan called for the Executive Branch to be determined by The Legislative Branch. However, a committee that met to work out all the details decided that, since the Constitution was intended to serve as a mixture between state and federal government, the election of the President should reflect the same. This was the intention of the Electoral College. The Electoral College helps to ensure individual states have a voice and maintain some autonomy within the national government, which was very important to our founding fathers. Afterall, why would candidates campaign in smaller states or rural areas, if not for their allocation of their electors? The same is true for special interests and minority voters.
Originally, the electors would cast 2 votes for President (instead of the current 1 vote for President and 1 vote for Vice President), and the person with the second largest vote tally was the Vice President. The 12th Amendment, passed on 1804, changed this process after several problematic elections.
In 1968, the United States came the closest it ever has to abolishing the Electoral College system when Richard Nixon won 301 of the electoral votes with less than 1% of the popular vote (511,944 votes). Rep. Emanuel Celler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, proposed a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a system that would elect the pair of candidates (Presidential & Vice Presidential) who won at least 40% of the popular vote. The resolution passed in the House of Representatives, and was supported by President Nixon, but faced a filibuster in the Senate. After two failed attempts at cloture, the resolution was laid aside and not attended to, again. It died with the end of the 91st Congress in January of 1971.
There are many more questions… How do states determine electors? It’s different for every state. What happens if there is an electoral tie? Can an elector be disqualified? Can an elector vote for a candidate they did not pledge to? What are the pros and cons of an indirect system and the Electoral College? Find lots of answers, below:
Wikipedia entry on the Electoral College- An extensive entry on the history, the methodology, and the benefits and drawbacks of the electoral college system
The National Archives and Records Administration’s Electoral College website- A great site with an FAQ, teaching resources, games, and information specific to the 2008 elections (including “Am I registered to vote?”)
270 to Win- An interactive electoral map that reminds you “This isn’t a popularity contest.”
Electoral College in plain English- From legal jargon experts, H&R Block
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