Understanding the Electoral College

 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.

garland_logo.pngThe 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.


Showing 14 reactions

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  • Patrick Degan
    commented 2018-05-15 01:25:27 -0400
    An interesting alternative concept for ‘fixing’ the Electoral College, as far as is possible with an institution that hasn’t had a real function since the invention of the telegraph, and probably the most workable in constitutional terms without requiring an amendment. Of course, there are a few problems to be solved: getting the states to adopt this system, getting a repeal of winner-take-all allocation of electors as well as that of the “faithless elector” laws in 26 states, and getting the two major parties to accept this system — since there is a potential here for presidential candidates to bypass the actual nominating conventions by sponsoring their own slates of electors even if they lose the primaries, unless it was written into law that only the actual party nominees could then be represented by electors. And would the national popular vote for the actual candidates have any influence upon the process? If that issue isn’t addressed, then the same problem as with the current system arises again only one carrying the additional problem of the potential for presidential elections to be deadlocked and subsequently thrown into the House of Representatives to be decided, and I doubt anyone wants that outcome.
  • @ModernWhigs tweeted this page. 2016-04-16 09:00:07 -0400
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    Understanding the Electoral College
  • jules rensch
    commented 2016-04-07 12:17:13 -0400
    Interesting too, is how completely connected our forefathers were to the establishment of a good and just Monarchy….after the revolution…there was a concerted effort to name Gen. George Washington, King for life.
    General Washington declined, the rest is history.

    Observer Jules
  • Phillip Bobrowski
    commented 2016-04-07 11:17:42 -0400
    I think what we also see constantly exposed is our Founding Father’s foresight into how balanced they wanted the processes to be; from having two separate branches of Congress, with a House determined by population, and a Senate assigned equally, to having stop-gap measures in the election process that wouldn’t allow large-populated areas to control the leadership of an entire nation.
    The largest problem TODAY is that not enough of the voting population know about why the process was designed, how it works to the benefit of EVERYONE, and how stops the possible return of a monarchy or creation of a dictatorship.
  • jules rensch
    commented 2016-04-07 10:36:07 -0400
    Thanks Philip, for showcasing this “flaw”….
    While I took the time and initiative to actually vote in the Ohio Primary last month….now I wonder just how much influence I truly have in an outcome.

    Observer Jules
  • Phillip Bobrowski
    commented 2016-04-07 08:49:01 -0400
    Even now, we are seeing the potential results of what a political party convention could mean to a general election; the people don’t “vote”; the delegates are the ones who decide. And who chooses the delegates? The party makes up those rules. At the State or Federal level? Depends on the rules.
  • jules rensch
    commented 2016-04-05 19:02:25 -0400
    Great Grant…by jove, I think we have a handle on this!

    Observer Jules
  • Grant Jensen
    commented 2016-04-05 18:17:38 -0400
    The more I think about this idea, the more I like it. If known electors had to run locally it could get more people involved and educated about the issues of governance we deal with as a country.
  • jules rensch
    commented 2016-04-05 10:07:18 -0400
    Amen, Phillip A. Bobrowski..your idea of bringing back an actual Civics Class has much merit.
    During the Hanging Chad situation, I was living in Honduras….as the sad Florida scenario unfolded it was obvious that America was appearing to look so"Third World".
    Many Hondurans looked at this voting debacle “as ho-hum” full well knowing the crooked politics is the norm.
    I hope America can find it’s way towards true political enlightenment!
    Your suggestion would be of profound benefit towards that end!
    Thanking you, I am, Observer Jules
  • Phillip Bobrowski
    commented 2016-04-05 09:18:48 -0400
    Instead of needing to explain the Electoral College, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had the knowledge of government and elections?
    Maybe it’s time to bring back a well-defined and separate “Civics” class to our children’s education; something that DOES NOT allow the instructor to voice their opinion of Party, but defines what it means to be a Citizen of the United States.
    The entire “hanging chad” episode still lingers in some voter’s memories.
    This year’s nomination process is going to throw an even larger wrench into the gears of the election process, especially if the Party’s Conventions’ ballots become contested or they are brokered. While not new to the Presidential election process, the very fact that no current voter has been actively associated with 3rd or 4th Ballot Candidates, or an Electoral College “correction”, will make for much confusion, protest, and, likely, violent behavior from the uninformed and/or easily manipulated populous.
  • jules rensch
    commented 2016-03-30 23:35:42 -0400
    Thank you Mike Van Pelt….While your statement is true, it only involves the Executive Branch of Government…the Presidency, truly is a small portion of our Government….(that which presides over the Congress and Senate)
    The elected House of Representatives does indeed come from the people….and are sent to Washington to represent all of us.
    Perhaps you have noticed just how powerless President Obama has been perceived … demonstrating the strength of the peoples voting for representatives.
    Sadly, this whole business of “brokering delegates” offers the ultimate possibility of corruption.
    respectfully, Observer Jules
  • Mike Van Pelt
    commented 2016-03-30 22:30:03 -0400
    The problem with one nationwide “one person one vote” election for President is that if that is done, candidates for President will be selected by the population of BosWash, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Candidates will cater to those three urban areas, and pretty much not care about anyone anywhere else.

    One thing the Electoral College does is require candidates to get broader support than just in a few high-density cities.

    The ideal, of course, would be to follow the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, and people wouldn’t need to care so much about who was running Washington DC.

    The idea of electors running independently is definitely intriguing.
  • Grant Jensen
    commented 2016-03-29 21:59:44 -0400
    I agree that election system could be improved but I don’t think we are ready for a systemic change until we have began a cultural change. If the informed people or electoral college were more active on a local level then perhaps the less informed or involved will follow their example. The electoral college is only one part of a bigger picture but I agree that it could have the leverage to improve things greatly if we use it.