Electoral College – Stay or Go?
CONVERSATION: How does the Electoral College work, and do we still need it?
The president and vice president are selected through the Electoral College system which gives each state the same number of electoral votes as it has members of Congress. (One for each Senator and each House Representative.) The District of Columbia gets three electoral votes. Of the total 538 votes available, a candidate must receive 270 to win.
With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, all states assign a delegation of electors who pledge to honor the winner of the popular vote, or who follow that state’s regulation which binds the electors by law to vote according to popular vote for the whole. The pledges are not mandated by law, but the rule of popular vote is generally followed. In Maine (4) and Nebraska (5), the Electoral College gives two statewide votes to the winner of the popular vote, with the rest being decided by congressional district. No senator or representative can be named an elector nor can any other person holding an office of trust or profit for the United States. The 14th Amendment also disqualifies any state official found to have taken part in rebellion or insurrection towards the United States, or giving aid and comfort to its enemies, from being an Elector. The following states show the names of their Electors for the Electoral College on the ballot: Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Dakota.
The 12th Amendment says that a separate vote must be given to the president, and then to the vice president. The same amendment states that in the event of a presidential tie, with no one having a majority, the House of Representatives will select the president, but will receive one vote from the delegation, not the actual state representative. Should there be a tie for vice president, the Senate will select the new vice president.
This method of electing the president and vice president was decided by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The question of the day was, should the president be elected by Congressional Representatives or by popular vote. Remember, there were no computers, no adding machines, no phones, no telegraph, and certainly no trains, planes or cars, so getting popular votes in and counted across the country wasn’t even feasible. Congressional vote for President was out, as many thought there was too much chance of corruption if the vote was decided by a group of men who knew each other from frequent inter-action during sessions of Congress. Another concern was the difference between the northern states and the southern states regarding slavery. The Electors method of voting prevented states that had free Negroes from using them to influence elections, as Negroes were not counted in the population census. So all in all, having Electors was the best solution of the times. (The first time the term “Electoral College” was used in law was in 1845, and comes from the Roman Empires’ use of the Latin phrase; collegium electorum.)
Many people today think the Electoral College should be eliminated, so let’s talk about that.
Currently, the Supreme Court holds the position that nothing in the constitution assures Electors of complete freedom to vote as they please, so some states require them to pledge along a party line.
How would choosing by popular vote alone change the system?
A clean and simple count of ballots would ensure that a true majority of voters would determine the winner. This does not include registered voters who don’t make it to the polls or don’t mail in their ballots. It also gives no representation for unregistered citizens. 63.3% of eligible voters actually voted in 2008, and that percentage dipped to 57.5% in 2012. (Would elimination of the Electoral College encourage more people to register and vote?)
If we decided to keep the Electoral College, could it be improved upon?
Since all states have their own rules for selecting the Electors, it might be more even-handed if standard rules were applied for all state Electors. Aside from the one rule named in the Constitution; No senator or representative can be named an elector nor can any other person holding an office of trust or profit for the United States, possible rules to consider might be as follows:
- All states must list their Electors on general election ballots
- All states must list their Electors on primary and general election ballots
- All Electors are bound to vote according to popular vote of their state (or district), and providing an enforced law for misuse of powers if not followed
- All states must choose their Electors by district, as Nebraska and Maine do
- Nebraska and Maine must abide by popular vote standards statewide
- Electors must be announced before all elections, and their votes must be made public through news media at the time of the official count
Now that you’ve read this article, if you have any other suggestions or any comments, please post them in the comments section. I will follow up on them, and post as an article if you want to add to this conversation.
Other sources of information to round out this article were: