The Electoral College; Questions and Answers

Will this year electoral college go renegade? Can they?

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The election is still not over.  On December 19 the EC votes on the president and never in the past have ‘faithless’ electors have made a change in the presidency, but this year has not been like any other year.

What is the Electoral College?

It is a possibility, though remote, that enough electors could change their pledge and pick Clinton as the new president, as many Democrats are probably hoping.  How could that happen?  How is it that Trump did not win the popular vote, but won the Electoral vote? And hold on, the Electoral College hasn’t happened yet, these elections are not over yet!

It is through the Electoral College the American President is actually picked.  After the popular vote is counted, each state awards the electors, who have been selected by the presidential candidate prior to voting, to elect the most popular candidate in that state. All states except Maine and Nebraska are based on the “winner-take-all” since the 1880s. There are 538 electors, based on the 435 Representatives (which are determined by the census collected every 10 years), 100 Senators, plus three electors for the District of Columbia (which received presidential voting rights only since 1961 in the Twenty-third Amendment. The least populated state, Wyoming has 563,626 people living in the whole state in 2010 compared to Washington D.C.’s population at 601,767). The least number of electoral votes any one state can have is three (Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont and D.C.); based on 1 representative and 2 senators. California has the largest number of electors with 55.

In most elections, the Electoral College has elected the candidate who received the most votes nationwide called the ‘popular vote’, except in five elections, 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and now in 2016.

How did the Electoral College get started? And Why?

The Electoral College has been in law by the Article 2 Constitution ( and ratified  in the 12th amendment combining the president and vice president under one vote) since 1787.  The Electoral College was established in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. Since the entire process is part of the original U.S. Constitution, in order to change the system would need a Constitutional amendment to pass.

Perhaps the original reason for the Electoral College is due to the slow communication abilities at the beginning of the nation.  Since it would be difficult for the entire people to be made aware of the candidates’ and all their platforms, it was decided to pick electors whose job was to stay inform and choose the president based on the general population’s vote. The electors are chosen by the candidates (and their parties) but each state has their own rules and requirements.

By 1804, most states made ‘the winner-take-all’ the system in picking the electors, except for Maine and Nebraska.

Have there ever been attempts to change the system to only popular vote counting?

Yes, many times. Yet in order to be ratified as a new Constitutional amendment the proposal needs to be agreed by 2/3’s of the majority in both houses of Congress AND then it would need to be ratified by ¾’s of each state.

Are Electors obligated to vote as directed or can they be ‘faithless’? Is it possible on Dec. 19 there can be a new president-elect?

Every state’s electors meet on the Monday following the second Wednesday of December. They cast their votes then, and those votes are sent to the President of the Senate who reads them before both houses of Congress on January 6th.

In theory, the Electoral College could switch candidates if enough electors switched sides. Although the Federal government does not have any laws about the obligation of the Electors voting for their chosen candidate, 27 states do have such laws. There have been ‘faithless’ electors in the past, but they have never changed the vote.

How is it possible for the electoral vote to produce a different result than the nation-wide popular vote? How many times in US history has the popular vote been superseded by the Electoral College? What were the discrepancies?

Since each state awards the candidate a full house of electors even if only 51% of the vote was won by a particular party, it is possible to have a different president-elect than the popular vote.  Indeed, it has happened 5 times in the history of the United States; 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and now 2016.

In 1824, there were many candidates thus no candidate received the 270 votes demanded to win in the Electoral College. Andrew Jackson had won the popular vote (40.3% of the vote). He received 44,804 votes more than anyone else, but he did not have enough in the Electoral College vote due to the splintering of the candidates. It was the first time, the presidential election vote needed to be decided by the House of Representatives. There, John Quincy Adams made sure Henry Clay won instead since he did not support Jackson.

In 1876 Samuel Tilden not only won the popular vote by 264,292 votes but also received 184 electoral votes to Rutherford Hayes’s165 electoral votes.  Yet, neither won enough votes in the Electoral College since 20 votes of the Electoral College from 4 states were unresolved. To date, it remains the election that recorded the smallest electoral vote and popular vote victory in the Electoral College ballot. Hayes received the presidency.

In 1888 the incumbent president, Grover Cleveland a Democrat won by a narrow margin of 100,456 by the popular vote but lost the electoral vote to Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison 233 to Cleveland’s 168.

The year 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by 543,816 votes for the Democrats Presidential bid, but the Electoral College went to George Bush after a recount was stopped being counted in Florida by a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court.

This year Donald Trump lost the popular vote with 61,201,031to Hillary Clinton’s 62,523,126; a huge difference of 1.3 million votes.  Yet Mr. Trump won by a landslide in the Electoral College with 306 Electoral compared to her 232 votes; a strange abstruse of numbers.

If somehow the Electoral College would change the projection as it stands now, would Mrs. Clinton’s conceding speech jeopardize her becoming president?

No, it would have no influence on the Electoral College results.  Though it would be very unlikely such a scenario happening, based on United States history and the laws of 27 of the states enforce the electors to vote according to who they were chosen for and the rest of the 23 states who do impose fines.

Since the founding of the Electoral College, there have been 157 faithless electors (those who don’t vote according to their commitment). Of these votes, 71were changed because the original candidate died in between elections and the Electoral College. Three of the votes were not cast at all as three electors chose to abstain in protest. The other 82 electoral votes were changed by the elector’s personal discretion.

There are 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) that require rarely enforced punishments for faithfulness voting. In the 1836 election, Virginia’s entire 23-man electoral delegation faithlessly abstained from voting for the Democratic vice presidential nominee Richard M. Johnson, since he had an open long-term interracial relationship with his slave. It was the largest ‘faithless’ vote, but it did not effect the elections. As of the 2004 election, no elector has changed the outcome of an election by voting against his or her party’s designated candidate.

Despite these 157 faithless votes, and a Supreme Court ruling allowing states to empower political parties to require formal pledges from presidential electors (Ray v. Blair, 343 US 214), 21 states still do not require their members of the Electoral College to vote for their party’s designated candidate. Today, of the large in number Republican states that do not have strict laws are  Texas 38, Pennsylvania 20, Georgia 16, Indiana 11, Arizona 11,  Missouri 10 and if they were all to go, renegade, the Trump vote it would be a change of 106!

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Electoral College?

Pro:

  1. Prevention of victory based on just the cities. It allows the farmers and smaller populated states to have a voice and be noticed during the campaigns. If it went only by popular vote the candidates would only try to appeal to cities of large populations.  Although this might be more truthful of the full number of voters, but it would not reflect many people who live in sparse spaces, who need help to be recognized for their legitimate needs.
  2. For good or bad, it enforces a two-party system. Although having many parties like in Israel allows many platforms to be heard and addressed, and is truly a more democratic system, but it does not mean it works or is a fair or good system.
  3. By voting state-by-state, if there is a need to recount; it is much easier (like in 2000 in Florida) it only means in the single state recounts would be needed to be carried out. This year it has taken over two weeks to finish counting the first time around the popular vote, even in this modern day. If there was a need for a recount, the time and effort would be enormous.
  4. It allows the check and balance process of the American government work. If need be, if the electoral college doesn’t vote in a president, the next step would entail the House of Representatives to step in, ensuring that the president is bound by the other branches of power, somewhat limited in full power.

Con:

  1. It isn’t a real democracy, and it only promotes a two party system. Again, having only two parties isn’t a real democracy either. Considering that there are 1.5 billion people in America; it is a hard stretch of the imagination that two parties actually represent the entire people’s choices. The Electoral College is just more of the same.
  2. It makes people feel their vote doesn’t really count.
  3. It may produce a president that is not popular, like this year.
  4. The minorities may be given more power than their numbers.

Conclusion

This election actually is not over until the President of the Senate reads the results of the Electoral College to both houses of Congress on January 6th. It really could go anyway.  Stay tuned.

 

 

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