The Electoral College and How It Selects a President
Elections in the US are one of the swiftest electoral processes in the world. Due to this, there has been the need to learn on how they conduct such elections bearing in mind that their elections not only involve the popular votes but a special election by the Electoral College. This research includes looking into detail of how the Electoral College of the US operates, its composition and the requirements for one to be elected as an elector in the Electoral College. The process involved in electing the president and the vice president of the US from the step of picking the electors up to when they cast their vote is also looked into in this research. The laws that govern the process of choosing the electors and how they vote either on the basis of their state’s legislation or party’s pledges are one of the many issues discussed.
The Electoral College in the US is not a place but a process established in the Constitution of the US as a concession between the election through a vote in Congress and a majority vote by qualified citizens for the case of the president (Bickel, 1971). The president and the vice president are voted by the selected electors meeting to vote and also tallying of the votes by the Congress. For one to be declared a winner, he or she has to garner a majority of 277 votes out of the possible 538 electors who make up the Electoral College. Every state is entitled to some electors who are equal to the number of its congregational delegation. The congregational delegation includes one vote and two votes for each member of the House of Representatives and two senators of each state respectively.
For the purpose of the Electoral College, the District of Columbia is apportioned three electors and considered as a state as spelled out in the 23rd Constitutional amendment. Every candidate vying for the presidency in the US has his or her electors who are chosen by the candidate’s political party (Bennett, 2006). However, state legislation varies on the responsibilities and the process of selecting the voters. Apart from Maine and Nebraska that have a “proportional representation” most states have a system commonly referred to as the “Winner-take-all” that grants the winning presidential candidate all the electors’ votes.
For one to qualify as an elector, he or she has to pass some standards set by the US Constitution. Despite the provisions being few, the Article II, section1, clause 2 of the Constitution provides that no person may it be a senator, a member of the House of Representative or an individual who has held an office in the US considered as that of trust or profit can be appointed to be an elector in a general election.
Also, those citizens who have ever been engaged in insurgency or an uprising against the state or even offered help or relief to the enemy of the state cannot serve as an elector in the US.
The process of choosing state’s electors comprises of two parts. The first stage is where potential electors are chosen by political parties a period before the elections are held. This section is political parties controlled, and this makes the process vary from one state to another. The slates for the potential elector are either nominated at the state party’s conventions by political parties or voted by the party’s central committee (Bickel, 1968). This takes place at the state level and is controlled by the legislations that the state party or the national party have for the whole exercise. This results in every presidential aspirant getting their peculiar slate of prospective electors at the Electoral College. The electors are mostly nominated by the political parties for the slate as a way of honoring them for their dedicated services for the political party. Most of the electors may be elected state officials, people who are affiliated with the party’s presidential candidate or state party leaders.
The second part of the process of choosing the electors happens on the day of the elections. Voters happen to be choosing their individual state electors as they vote for the presidential candidate of their choice during the Election Day. The best presidential aspirants’ slates of prospective electors are nominated as the state’s electors except for the case of Nebraska and Maine. In these two state, the winner of a state receives two votes, and the other winner of the congressional district receives a single vote of an elector. This system of picking electors makes it possible for the electors from the two states to be awarded to more than a single candidate.
The constitution and the federal election laws do not compel the electors to cast their votes for the party candidates to which they belong. However, there exist states that have legislations on books that require the electors to cast their votes against their party’s candidates if the candidate gets a popular vote in that state while in other states, there exist no such laws, but there is a common practice that electors vote their party’s nominee (Edwardo, 2004). This brings out two categories of electors- those that are bound by the laws of the state and those that abide by the pledges to their respective political parties.
US Supreme Court has held that the Constitution doesn’t provide for the electors to be completely free as they decide on whether there may be the extraction of pledges by political parties from the electors so that they can vote for the party nominees. In some states, there exist laws that provide for the electors who are unfaithful be subjected to penalties or be invalidated for casting invalid votes and be reinstated by the substitute elector (Pierce, 1968). However, the Supreme Court of the US has not yet ruled on whether a failure to vote as promised may attract penalties as spelled out under the Constitution because to date no elector has ever been arraigned in court for voting contrary to the promise.
It is unlikely for Electors to put aside the majority vote and vote for someone else other than their party’s aspirant because they are people who hold leadership positions in their parties or have been chosen so as to honor them for their years of loyalty to their parties. This has made it hard for the electors to vote contrary to their pledges (Bickel, 1971).
Once the presidential elections have been conducted the governor of each state draws up a Certificate of Ascertainment that lists all the presidential aspirants in a given state with the names of their electors. The document also serves the purpose of declaring the winning candidate in the state and also shows the electors to represent the state in the electors meeting. (Bennett, 2006). Certificates of Ascertainment are then sent to the Congress and the National Archives as the official records of the elections.
The electors meeting takes place on first Monday that comes after the second Wednesday in December on the year of the presidential elections. On the day, the electors confine in their individual states and cast their votes for their favorite presidential candidate as well as the vice president but on different ballots. The elector’s votes for each state are then recorded on a “Certificate of Vote” drawn up at the meeting by the electors and sent to the national archives as evidence of the held elections (Edwardo, 2004).
For each state, the electoral votes are tallied jointly in a period of the Congress in the following year of the electors meeting on 6th January by the members of the House of Representatives together with those of the Senate in the House chamber. The Vice President who is the president of the senate oversees the tallying exercise and releases the results of the vote and also declares the persons who have been declared the president and vice president-elects of the US (Pierce, 1968). On the 20th January of the following year of the elections, the president-elect is inaugurated as the new president of the US.
In the instance where their I no candidate who garners a majority of the electoral votes, the presidential election is taken to the US House of Representatives where the top three competitors contest with each state casting only a single vote. The candidate who wins a majority of the states is pronounced the winner of the elections. This same process is carried out for the vice president, but for the post, it’s the Senate that makes the selection (Bickel, 1968).
There have been instances in the past where a presidential candidate has lost a majority of the popular votes but won the electoral vote but was declared the president. An example of such a scenario is George W. Bush and Al Gore in the year 2000 where Al Gore won the popular vote by 51%, but Bush was declared the president since he garnered 271 Electoral College votes against his competitor’s 266 votes.
The Electoral College is critical as it determines who wins the presidential elections in the US. This Electoral College also acts as the distinguishing factor between the electoral systems of the US from those of other nations where the person with the simple majority becomes the automatic winner of the presidential elections. This process has been criticized by many, but the proponents of the system maintain that it ensures the rights of the smaller states and acts as a very crucial part of the American federalist democracy (Edwardo, 2004). The Electoral College has also been very instrumental in foreseeing that there are free, fair and transparent elections of the president.
Bickel, A. M. (1971). Reform and continuity: The electoral college, the convention, and the party system. New York: Harper & Row.
Bennett, R. W. (2006). Taming the electoral college. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Law and Politics.
Bickel, A. M. (1968). The new age of political reform: The electoral college, the convention, and the party system. New York: Harper & Row.
Edwards, G. C. (2004). Why the electoral college is bad for America. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.
Peirce, N. R. (1968). The people’s President: The electoral college in American history and the direct-vote alternative. New York: Simon and Schuster.