The Electoral College
Established by the founders of the US constitution, the Electoral College was made in 1804 in Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution. A college is a unique approach for directly electing the United States president and the vice president. By voting for a president and a Vice President, the People choose presidential electors collectively referred to as the Electoral College. The College depicts how the power to elect the president and vice-president is spread across the 50 states. After its establishment, the College underwent modification in the 12th and 23rd Amendments. The number of electoral votes in each state in the US is equal to the total combination delegates in the Congress. The legislature in each state has the freedom to determine the method of selecting their electors. There are 538 members in the Electoral College, one member for each senator and representative, and three electors representing the District of Columbia. A 270 majority electoral vote is required to elect the president. The US constitution framers devised the College to offer election that was feasible and consistent with a form of republican government.
The selection of the presidential candidate was vested in the legislature during most of the Constitutional Convention. The aim was to offer a system that would help select the most qualified candidate to be the president and the US vice president. Historians offer different reasons for Electoral College adoption. This includes slavery, power separation concerns, and the relationship between the legislature and the executive branches. Alexander Hamilton, who supported the Electoral College, argued that although the Electoral College was not a perfect system, it was excellent in determining the president and vice president of the US.
Nomination of Electors
The US constitution does not stipulate a specified procedure for the nomination of a presidential elector candidate. However, the states adopted two modes, which include nomination by either the committee or convention of the state party. The parties tend to select members who have demonstrated loyalty and commendable services to the party. Anyone can serve as an elector except the congress members or people holding “Trust or Profit” offices under the US constitution (Edwards, 20). The electors may include leaders in the party, activists in a party, and local and state officials elected in the party. In other states, the electors’ names are included in the ballot along with the presidential and vice president’s candidate name. However, in most US states, the names of the electors are not printed on the ballot. By casting a vote for a presidential party, a voter casts a vote for the presidential electors selected by the party’s candidate. This practice is a handover from early American history, where a primary political line divided the large and small states. The founders hoped to prevent the presidential elections from being dominated by the most significant states through the system.
Awarding Electoral Votes
The District of Columbia and all the other states apply either the winner-take-all system or the district system in awarding their electoral votes. When a presidential candidate wins a state’s popular vote in the winner-take-all system, the slate party’s electors cast their votes for the president and the vice president. This method is applied in 48 states and the District of Columbia. In this system, all electoral votes tend to be awarded to the candidate having the most votes in that state. If the candidates hail from an elector’s home state, electors cannot vote for both (Florey, 317). Therefore they can only vote for either of the two candidates. For example, if both the president and vice-president are from New York, then the electors in New York must vote for one candidate, unlike electors from other states who are to vote for both candidates. Maine and Nebraska apply the district system in rewarding the electoral votes. One of the electoral votes is awarded to the candidate with the majority of popular votes. The candidate receiving the majority of votes nationwide receives the two remaining electoral votes. Therefore in this system, it is possible to split the electoral votes.
After the general election, a Certificate of Ascertainment is prepared by the governor listing names of individuals on each candidate’s slate. The certificate consists of the number of received votes received and the elected candidate as the elector in the state. On the first Monday after the general elections, the electors meet in their respective states and cast their votes for a presidential and vice-presidential candidate. The electors are required to vote for the candidate they represent; however, they are not bound by the constitution. After casting the votes, the Electoral College mandate ceases to exist. The votes are recorded on a certificate of Votes where it is later sent to Congress. To win the elections, a majority electoral vote of 270 out of 538 is required (Edwards, 28). However, the submitted results from any given state are subject and open to challenge as provided by the law at the joint session. Presiding over the vote-counting is done by the vice president, who is the Senate president, and he is also mandated to announce the results.
The methods to object to the results by the congress members to electoral votes have been set since 1887. The objection has to be written and signed by at least a senator and a representative. The objection is considered separately by each chamber and the recesses of the Joint Session. After each chamber decides whether to accept the objection, there is a Joint session reconvening, and the chambers disclose their decision on the matter. If the two chambers agree with the objection, the electoral votes having an issue are not counted. However, the votes are counted when either chamber opposes the objection. In 1969 and 2005, there were objections to the Electoral College, leading to counting the votes in question. This resulted since objections were rejected by both the Senate and the House (Norris, 16).
Arguments For and Against the Electoral College
The Electoral College system has a troubling aspect where the candidate with the most popular vote may not possibly be the winner. Presidents such as George W. Bush in 2000 were elected with minimal popular votes compared to his opponents. The pros and cons of the Electoral College are intertwined in the divergence of the popular and electoral votes. Most of those for the system holds that the Electoral College offers the president a special federal majority and a broad national mandate to unify and govern the two major parties (De Mouzon, 193). They also argue that through the College, the interest of the small states and areas with sparse populations is protected. They argue that if the president was to be directly elected, the small states, together with the sparsely populated regions, were to be ignored, and their influence would be eliminated. The college application of the winner-takes-all approach leads to the cancellation of the losing candidate’s votes in each state (Erikson, Sigman, and Yao 27942). The supporters have argued that its longevity and failed reform attempts are proof of its merit
Those opposing the College argue a high possibility of an undemocratic outcome, especially when the popular vote winner loses in the electoral votes. The possibility of a faithless voter who casts a vote against the pledged candidate makes the system undesirable and outmoded (De Mouzon, 218). Therefore they propose a reform by replacing the system with the popular vote. There have been public opinions that depict the popular vote as a better option than the Electoral College. There are also proposals to adopt the district plan as used in Nebraska and Maine. The system will allow the proportional allocation of the electoral votes based on the number of popular votes received by a candidate.
There is no law in the federal or a provision in the constitution requiring the electors to vote for the party that nominated them. Over the years, electors have gone against the voter’s instructions and have ended up voting for a candidate from a party that did not elect them. The political party tends to elect an elector based on their loyalty to the party. Most of them are party leaders, therefore, minimizing the possibility of voting for an opponent. For example, an elector elected by the Republican Party is not entitled to vote for a Democratic candidate. Laws have been passed by most of the states requiring electors to cast their votes as pledged. A fine may be imposed on the elector who violates their pledge. The US Supreme Court in July 2020 made a ruling that it is constitutional to have the law enacted (Engel, 620). For example, Oklahoma imposes a $1,000 civil penalty on electors violating their pledge. In states such as North Carolina, the faithless elector is considered to have resigned, and there is a replacement appointment.
Electoral College Proposed Changes
The Electoral College has changed thrice through amendments of the constitution. After the 1800 tie election, there was the 12th amendment that allowed electors to vote for the president and the vice president rather than two individuals who could serve as the president (Amar, 2). In the 20th amendment, a time limit for the overall process was made. In the 23rd amendment, the electors were given to the District of Columbia. There have been great debates to have the Electoral College abolished. In 1968, a proposal was made to have the popular vote system replace the Electoral College. However, the Senate filibustered the proposal. The Electoral College is contained in the constitution, and making amendments in the constitution is an engaging and challenging process. Two approaches can be applied if the Electoral College is to be reformed through the amendment of the constitution. Congress can propose a two-thirds amendment of the two chambers. A three-fourths of the state’s legislature is to ratify the amendment. It can also be amended through two-thirds of the state legislature petitioning Congress to convene a constitutional convention (Amar, 5). Any portion of the constitution can be amended through a constitutional convention.
The 2000 presidential election was controversial, leading to the introduction of bills in every state to change the mode of selecting electors. There was a widespread proposal to have the reform made by switching to the district system. Although the bills were not passed, attention has focused on the National Popular Vote (NPV). The proposal would bypass the Electoral College by the state without Constitutional amendment (Kaplan, 15). Upon joining the NPV Compact, the state promises to give all its votes to the party winning the popular vote at the national level but not the state popular vote-winning party.
Electoral College has been in existence for a long time and has been a significant factor in the president’s election and vice president in the US. The College consists of 538 members, with three of the electors representing the District of Columbia. The states are mandated to select their electors. Awarding of the electoral votes is done through either the winner-take-all system or the district system. Arguments for and against the Electoral College have been raised. Any efforts to have the College reformed will require a constitutional amendment which is a complex undertaking. Therefore, the Electoral College is a strong tool in the overall presidential election, but the amendment is critical to ensure democracy is achieved for all.
Amar, Akhil Reed. “The troubling reason the Electoral College exists.” Time. com (2016).
De Mouzon, Olivier, et al. ““One Man, One Vote” Part 1: Electoral Justice in the US Electoral College: Banzhaf and Shapley/Shubik versus May.” Evaluating Voting Systems with Probability Models. Springer, Cham, 2021. 189-227.
Edwards, George C. “How the Electoral College Works.” Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America. Yale University Press, 2019. 12-37.
Engel, Gabrielle. “Power to the People: The Supreme Court’s Confirmation of State Power in the Wake of Faithless Electors.” U. Miami L. Rev. 75 (2020): 620.
Erikson, Robert S., Karl Sigman, and Linan Yao. “Electoral College bias and the 2020 presidential election.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117.45 (2020): 27940-27944.
Florey, Katherine. “Losing Bargain: Why Winner-Take-All Vote Assignment is the Electoral College’s Least Defensible Feature.” Case W. Res. L. Rev. 68 (2017): 317.
Kaplan, Alex. “America’s Electoral Problem: The Shortcomings of the Electoral College in Contemporary American Democracy.” (2019).
Norris, Pippa. “Do perceptions of electoral malpractice undermine democratic satisfaction? The US in comparative perspective.” International Political Science Review 40.1 (2019): 5-22.
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