This week I’m going to tackle a very difficult subject to understand – The Electoral College. Most people, I think, assume that presidential elections are decided by whoever wins the popular vote becomes the president. The truth of the matter is that when we cast our votes for president we’re really voting for the members of the Electoral College from our individual states. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, “The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The founding fathers established it in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.” The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. Each state’s entitled allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for its Senators.
The Founding Fathers came up with the Electoral College to ensure the states were fairly represented. The thinking was that one or two densely populated areas shouldn’t have the power to speak for the whole nation. For instance, there are 3,141 counties in the United States. In the last election, President Trump won 3,084 of them while Hillary won just 57 of them. In New York there are 62 counties. President Trump won 46 of them and Hillary won 16 counties. If one were to just count the popular vote, Hillary would have won by 1.5 million votes. But here’s the catch: In the five counties, (Burroughs), that encompass New York – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Richmond, and Queens – Hillary received over two million more votes than President Trump. Hillary won all those Burroughs except Richmond. The point is that Hillary would have won the election if it were done just by the popular vote which would mean that those four Burroughs, which comprise 319 square miles, would have controlled the outcome of the last presidential election despite the fact that there are 3,797,000 square miles in the United States. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the voters who inhabit just 319 square miles of the country should dictate the outcome of a national election. Put in broader terms, large, densely populated cities should not be permitted to speak for the rest of the country! That’s why there is an electoral college.
Thinking of it another way, which is relatively new to me, we help choose our state’s elector when we vote for President because when we vote for a candidate we’re actually voting for the candidate’s electors. Believe it or not, the idea of presidential electors isn’t a new one that Congress managed to slip by us. Actually the Electoral College was established by the Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 in 1789. That’s 230 years ago! So the existence of the Electoral College is as old as the country itself, but still not many people understand how it really works and its impact on the outcome of presidential elections every four years. It was obviously created to prevent the popular vote from controlling the outcome of presidential elections in densely populated areas, as in the example cited earlier about how many votes Hillary got in the five Burroughs of New York that are so densely populated. Without the Electoral College, the president would be chosen by New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The rest of the votes cast would never equal the vote totals in those three cities! How fair does that seem? In all, there are 538 electors.
Writing in support of the Electoral College in 1788, Alexander Hamilton penned the following in the Federalist Papers, No. 68: “The electors come directly from the people and them alone for that purpose only, and for that time only. This avoided a party-run legislature, or a permanent body that could be influenced by foreign interests before each election.” Hamilton explained the election was to take place among all the states, so no corruption in any state could taint ‘the great body of the people in their selection. The choice was to be made by a majority of the Electoral College, as majority rule is critical to the principles of republican government.’ Hamilton argued that electors meeting in the state capitals were able to have information unavailable to the general public. Hamilton also argued that since no federal officeholder could be an elector, none of the electors would be beholden to any presidential candidate.”
In summary, according to Wikipedia: “Even though the aggregate national popular vote is calculated by state officials, media organizations, and the Federal Election Commission, the people only indirectly elect the president, as the national popular vote is not the basis for electing the president or vice president. The president and vice president of the United States are elected by the Electoral College, which consists of 538 electors from the fifty states and Washington, D.C. Electors are selected on a state-by-state basis, as determined by the laws of each state.”
I’ve heard about the Electoral College for years but really had no idea where it fit in the election of the President of the United States – and I certainly had no idea that when I cast my vote I was really only voting for Indiana’s presidential electors!
That’s –30—for this week.