A Constitutional compromise between opposing political factions to elect the President.
A group of people (electors) in each state, selected by each state legislature, to elect the President and Vice President of the United States.
History The similarities between the Electoral College and classical institutions are not accidental. Many of the Founding Fathers were well schooled in ancient history and its lessons. Founders started electoral The Electoral College was established by the founders as a compromise between election for the president by Congress and election by popular vote. Alexander Hamilton was among the first to write about the concept of electors in the Federalist Papers in 1788. The electoral college assumed its present constitutional form in 1804. The term "electoral college" does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to "electors," but not to the "electoral college."
The structure of the Electoral College can be traced to the Centurial Assembly system of the Roman Republic, and the term “elector” to the later Holy Roman Empire.
An elector was one of a number of princes of the various German states within the Holy Roman Empire who had a right to participate in the election of the German emperor.
The term "college" (from the Latin collegium ), refers to a body of persons that act as a unit.
In the early 1800's, the term " electoral college " came into general use as the unofficial designation for the group of citizens selected to cast votes for President and Vice President.
It was first written into Federal law in 1845, and today the term appears in 3 U.S.C. section 4, in the section heading and in the text as "college of electors."
Why do we have the Electoral College?
1. The framers of the Constitution feared direct democracy . Hamilton and the other founders did not trust the population to make the right choice.
“ election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station”
– James Madison
Why do we have the Electoral College?
2. The founding fathers wanted to protect the interests of smaller states and rural areas
3. Electoral College helps dilute the effect of votes from densely populated centers whose issues and concerns may be different from the rest of the country
How Does It Work?
Most people believe that when you vote in the General Election in November, you are casting your vote for the President of the United States.
When you cast your vote in November, you are actually voting for a “slate” (group) of electors, who are in turn pledged to vote for a specific candidate in December.
How Does It Work?
There are a total 538 electors, chosen by political parties in each state, who are “elected” to cast a ballot for a specific Presidential candidate.
538 = the number of Representatives (438) + Senators (100) in Congress. This number was set by law in 1911.
Note that 538 is only 0.0000138% of the current US population of 308,745,538
Each state is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of senators (always two) plus the number of its representatives.
New Mexico has three Representatives and two Senators in Congress, so it therefore also has FIVE electors.
2012 Electoral College Map 270 votes are needed to win the election
How Does It Work? STEP 1
Each political party chooses a “slate” of electors prior to the general election in November. These electors are “pledged” to vote for a specific candidate.
Electors are chosen as a reward for service in a variety of ways (differs by state).
In the 2008 Presidential election in New Mexico for example:
Democrats chose 5 electors pledged to Obama
Republicans chose 5 electors pledged to McCain
Green Party chose 5 electors pledged to McKinney , etc.
How Does It Work? STEP 2
In November of a presidential election year, each state holds a general election in which all eligible citizens may vote.
Citizens vote for a “ticket” which includes a candidate for president and a candidate for vice president.
The results from the November general election dictate which political party’s electors are chosen to vote in the Electoral College in December.
ALL of the electors for the candidate that wins the popular vote are selected to cast their vote for President. This is called the “winner takes all” system.
If the Republicans won the popular vote in New Mexico, their slate of electors will cast their votes for President/Vice-President.
But if the Democrats won the popular vote, their electors would cast their votes instead.
How Does it Work? STEP 3
In December, the electors meet in their state capitols to cast their ballots for president and vice president 41 days after the election
Thus the “Electoral College” never meets as a national body per se.
How Does it Work? STEP 3 cont.
States may or may not require their electors to vote with the popular majority. 24 states have laws which make it illegal for electors to vote against their party.
Electors who vote against their pledged candidate are called “faithless electors.”
On 158 occasions, electors have cast their votes for president in a different manner than that prescribed by the legislature of the state they represent.
Of those, 71 votes were changed because the original candidate died before the elector was able to cast a vote.
How Does it Work? STEP 4
These ballots are opened, counted, and certified by a joint session of Congress in January.
How Does It Work? STEP 5
If no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes or if the top two candidates are tied, the House of Representatives is required to vote for a president from among the leading five candidates.
The House votes en-bloc by state for this purpose. That means one vote per state, which is determined by the majority decision of the delegation from that state. If a state delegation is evenly split that state is considered as abstaining
The Senate selects a vice president by the same process. (This hasn't happened since 1876, but it almost happened in 2000.)
How Does It Work? STEP 5 cont.
The House of Representatives must choose a winner in time for the inauguration (noon on January 20 ).
If they do not, then the Constitution specifies that the new Vice President becomes Acting President until the House selects a President.
If the winner of the Vice Presidential election is not known by then either, then under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 , the Speaker of the House of Representatives would become Acting President until the House selects a President or the Senate selects a Vice President
Extra Credit Trivia Question:
The House of Representatives has elected the President on two occasions, in 1801 and in 1825 .
5 points extra credit if you bring me the answer in writing tomorrow:
Who were these Presidents?
How does it work?
2. Each party nominates a top candidate and holds a national convention. 1. State Primaries are held for Presidential candidates, and electors are chosen by each party 4. Parties’ slate of electors are chosen by the outcome 3. In November each state holds a general election 6. Joint session of Congress counts the votes 5. The Electoral College votes in each state capitol in December. 7. The President is inaugurated in January
Who are the Electors?
Depending on State policy, electors can be nominated by their political party, voted for in the primaries or chosen by a campaign committee
Currently, all states choose electors by popular election on the date specified by federal law
Electors can be anyone from a housewife to a lawyer to a baseball player
Only ONE Restriction : No person holding a federal office, either elected or appointed, may become an elector
Phases in the Presidential Election Process
State primaries (pre-nomination)
Electoral College Election
Ties are broken by a vote in the House of Representatives
Does the Electoral College Work?
92% record of non-controversial results
Promotes an ideologically and geographically broad two-party system
Contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president
Enhances the status of minority interests
Maintains a federal system of government and representation
Arguments in favor of keeping the Electoral College system:
Does the Electoral College work?:
The possibility of electing a minority president (one that did not receive the popular vote).
This has happened four times in U.S. history
The risk of so-called “faithless electors”
There have been 158 faithless electors in U.S. history, but none have changed the outcome of an election.
The possible role of the electoral college in depressing voter turnout (e.g. “my vote doesn’t count”)
The number of electors per state is based on population, and the U.S. Census only occurs once every 10 years
Arguments against the Electoral College system:
Proposals Made to Change the System:
Over the past 200 years, over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. The most promising alternative systems include:
Direct, popular vote
Direct Election with Instant Runoff Voting
Proportional allocation of electoral votes
Direct vote with plurality rule
Congressional District Method
National Bonus Plan
Does my vote count?
Since the party-affiliate electors are chosen to vote for the popular vote decided by the state, YOUR vote counts to increase the popular vote for your party! If there are enough people in your party that vote and win the popular vote, all the party-affiliated electoral votes will go to your candidate!
Voter Turnout Statistics VEP: Voter Eligible Population: Those people who were actually eligible to vote. Includes overseas voters and excludes illegal immigrants, felons, etc. VAP: Voting Age Population : Includes ALL persons 18 years or older by Census data, regardless of actual eligibility to vote. Source: http://elections.gmu.edu/voter_turnout.htm
Does My Vote Count? A Review of the 2000 Election
US Census year
Sparked interest in the electoral college
“ Nader issue”
Florida, New Mexico, New Hampshire & Oregon – every vote counted!
Al Gore WON the popular vote, but LOST the electoral vote
One of only 4 elections, and first in over 100 years (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000) where the popular vote winner was defeated
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received 2,882,728 votes, but no Electoral Votes
. . . .
100% Republican 100% Democrat
The “Nader” Issue
Does your vote count? Consider the impact of Ralph Nader’s campaign on the Democratic party’s vote in the 2000 election.
Nader received about 3 percent of the popular vote.
Most Nader votes would otherwise have voted Democrat (for Al Gore).
Democrats accused Nader of “handing the election to Bush” by splitting the Democratic vote.
Was this true? Consider the chart on the next page.
The True “Swing States”
If the popular vote in ANY ONE of these states had gone to Al Gore, he would have won the election.
If Nader had not been a candidate and the Nader voters had supported Gore, ALL of the electoral votes in these states would have gone to Gore .
The Pivotal States:
In the 2000 election, Al Gore lost to George W. Bush by only 5 electoral votes.
In four states (NM, OR, FL & MN), the popular vote was decided by a margin of less than 2% .
Nationwide, the vote was decided by less than 1%.
In New Mexico, the winning margin was only 366 people. Seriously. WHOA!
If only 366 voters in New Mexico had voted differently, or if 366 more Democrats had voted at all, Al Gore would have won the 2000 election.
So Does Your Vote Count? YES! So get off your ass and do your civic duty! VOTE! It really does make a difference.