By Frederick Nordstrom
The Electoral College was a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by popular vote of qualified citizens.
Each state legislature may appoint a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives that the state is entitled to in Congress. No Senator, Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall be appointed an Elector.
How are electors chosen? Electors are generally nominated at their state party’s conventions or by the party’s central committees in each state. From those nominees each candidate will have their own slate of potential Electors. Electors may be dedicated party members, State-elected officials, party leaders, or people who know a candidate.
Voters choose Electors on election day by voting for the Presidential candidate that they want. The Electors’ names may or may not appear on the ballot below the name of the Presidential candidate.
The winning candidate in each state except Nebraska and Maine is awarded all of the state’s Electors. In Nebraska and Maine, the candidate that has the most votes state-wide wins two Electors and the winner of each congressional district receives one; that allows Electors to be awarded to more than one candidate.
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring Electors to vote or pledge to vote for the winning candidate, twenty-four do not.
Electors vote by ballot for President and separately for Vice President. They make a list of all persons voted for President and one for all persons voted for Vice President and the number of votes for each one. They send those lists to the President of the U.S. Senate (the Vice President of the United States). In a joint session of Congress, the lists from all of the states are counted. The person having the majority of votes is elected President. If no one has a majority of votes, then the vote goes to the House of Representatives who vote for the top three candidates. Each state has ONE vote. For a quorum there must be a member or members from two-thirds of all of the states. The candidate with the majority of votes from all of the states is elected.
For Vice-President if no candidate receives a majority of votes, the Senate chooses from the top two candidates. Two-thirds of all the Senators are needed for a quorum and the candidate with the majority of votes wins. No one who is ineligible to be President can be Vice-President.
One of the reasons for the Electoral College was the idea that the President would be independent of the influence of groups other than the people who elect the President. In the Federalist Papers #68 Hamilton explains that “…the Executive should be indepen-dent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves.” Back then that meant the state legislatures. The intent was to find a means of electing a President and Vice-President by popular vote and to provide for geographical representation.
As we can see today, getting elected requires a candidate, who is not independently wealthy, to seek the financial support of a party and other financial donors in order to conduct a campaign leaving them vulnerable to the influence of those who can afford to give the most. That being said, even though two political parties dominate, change comes over time in the form of a new party or major changes within an existing party, but it can take time for enough steam to build up for a major change in the political parties take place, they may come slowly over time or in an instant upheaval.
In support of the electoral system, Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers #9 and James Madison in the Federalist Papers #10 explain the dangers of direct democracies.
It would require a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the electoral system because it is part of the original Constitution which guarantees a Republican form of government. Numerous attempts to alter or eliminate the Electoral College have been made but none have passed Congress for ratification by the states.
The key to changing the system might be, instead of Electors being selected by the legislature, perhaps Electors should be chosen by public vote rather than by party loyalty etc.; in other words, have a slate of electors run for those positions. Allow anyone eligible to vote to run in each Congressional District and for the two state-wide Electors. Their preference for President would appear on the ballot, who may or may not be in the Republican or Democratic Party. This would allow other candidates to compete with the entrenched party candidates. In 1992 Ross Perot won 20% of the popular vote, but no electoral votes because of the current system.
This would also allow those running for Elector positions to campaign within their Congressional District, except for the two state-wide electors. either for themselves or their candidate. Because most people don’t have the time or the inclination to follow the issues closely, they might campaign for themselves to demonstrate their knowledge of the candidates and the issues. The reason for the electoral college, is to have people who are knowledgeable of the candidates and issues to do the actual voting and thereby, hopefully, make the best selection.
I think it is worth looking into!
Fred Nordstrom is a freelance writer, veteran, and member of the American Legion and the Modern Whig Party of America. Opinions expressed are his own.