The big buzz lately is all about the Electoral College. Some people are actively campaigning for the popular vote to be the final say in presidential elections. In short, these Americans want to do away with the constitutionally mandated Electoral College.
The Electoral College just happened to be in the lesson I taught this week on Article II of the Constitution. This, being an election year, is the ideal time to learn or to brush up on some electoral college basics. Let’s do it!
- The Electoral college is a procedure. It is not a literal college.
- Electors are chosen by the states. In my state, we vote for our electors.
- Each state is allowed to have as many electors as there are senators + representatives. For example, Hawaii has 3 electors. (2 senators, 1 representative= 3 total electors) .
- The qualifications for electors are determined by each state (exception: District of Columbia gets 3 electoral votes). Usually, a slate of electors and alternates are chosen by each of the political parties, then placed on the November ballot.
- Many states are now “winner-take-all,” but some still have proportional representation when these electors vote for president and vice-president.
- Electors usually are pledged to support a candidate. If they break their pledge and vote differently, it is not illegal.
- The electors meet in their respective states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December in a presidential election year.
- The electors vote for President and vice-president separately. Their votes are sent to Congress, where they are tallied during a joint session of Congress.
- The current Vice-President, who is also the President of the Senate, presides over the count and declares the winners.
- If no candidate receives a majority (270) of the votes, the race will go to Congress as outlined in Article II. The House will choose the President by voting for one of the top 3 candidates. The Senate elects the Vice-President by voting for one of the top 2 candidates.
Our Founders knew that if we elected a president by only the popular vote, the states with the highest populations would always and forever choose the President. Smaller states with fewer people would never have a say in national governance. This was regarded as unfair and as a check on federal power.
To illustrate this point, I rolled out a huge map of the United States. I took the states (the usual suspects) with the most electoral college votes and marked them with a sticky note. For example, California has 55 electoral votes, so it was marked “55.” I had the students tally up the electoral votes for the larger states, and it came to only 267 votes. This illustrated the necessity for candidates to spend money and campaign in smaller states. If only one larger state flipped from Republican to Democrat or vice -versa, the smaller states could easily make up for those votes that went to the opposite party. This assures the states with fewer electoral votes that they matter, as they should. Our largest states by population should not be given the honor of choosing our presidents in perpetuity.
So, our founding fathers had it right. If we want justice for all, then we must not rig nor change the system so that our candidate can win. Nor can we claim fairness only when it benefits our preferences. The electoral college assures fairness for all states and all regions. Again, it is a state check on federal power.
You can read more about the Electoral College in Article II, section 1, and in the 12th Amendment. The electoral college is a “hot button” issue this year. Knowing a few basic facts about it is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship at work. ??