Tonight at dinner my wife asked me to explain the Electoral College and how it works, so I thought I would post the explanation here on the blog as well. If you know all about the Electoral College, read on and see if I’ve made any mistakes. If you have no clue on how it works, you may find this interesting. If you could care less, then perhaps you will enjoy this Abbott and Costello routine on baseball.
When people go to the polls to vote for president, they are actually casting votes for “electors”. After the popular vote is cast, the electors meet to cast their votes for president and the votes are counted by Congress.
Each state has as many electors as they do members of their congressional delegation. One vote for each Congressman, plus one for each Senator. The rules on how they vote can vary depending on the state. Most states are winner take all when it comes to their votes. Maine and Nebraska split theirs based on the proportion of the vote.
The meeting of the electors takes place on the first Monday, following the second Wednesday in December. The votes are then counted during a joint session of Congress on the 6th of January. The Vice President, as president of the Senate, presides over the vote and announced the results.
Electors are selected either by the political parties in a state or by the state legislators. While the Constitution does not require electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their states, it is rare when they do not. Most states have requirements for electors to vote for the popular vote winners.
Many have wanted to replace the Electoral College, calling the process antiquated. In fact, there have been more proposed amendments to abolish or change the Electoral College process than any other issue in American history.
There have been four presidents elected to office who lost the popular vote. In 1824 John Quincy Adams lost to Andrew Jackson, but was elected by the House of Representatives when the Electoral College ended in a tie. Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel J. Tilden in 1876, Benjamin Harris lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland in 1888 and George Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000.
I would like to see a change in the Electoral College. Modern technology makes counting the votes fast and fairly accurate. I would be in favor of keeping the system in place if every state did as Maine and Nebraska and cast the electoral votes based on the proportional vote totals. The system was championed by James Madison as a way to protect from different factions gaining too much power. I think the system of checks and balances in the system make this a real non issue. What do you think?