Electoral College: Let’s Define It

In an earlier article I suggested that one of the problems with the way in which we elect Presidents and Vice Presidents is the fact that we are not at all using the same system for voting our leaders into office. In essence, our leaders get “electoral” experience through their parties, but without having the actual ability to alter the makeup of state governments. For instance, what is the meaning of “popular vote” if no one actually votes for the person that was party to the winning ticket? In this article, I will show you the definition of “Electoral College,” how it came to be (and why it continues to be), and how the system we currently use actually creates less accountability and integrity for our elected leaders.

The first question we must answer is what is an “Electoral College?” In the United States, each State legislature appends its own list of Electors to the applicable voting list of each State. In many States, the legislature simply refers to themselves as Electors, while in other States the legislature uses the term “Electors” to denote individuals chosen by the voters at a general election. In many States, the term “Electors” is actually a term used only at the time of an election, but not by the general populace at large. The list of Electors is manipulated by the state legislature in order to ensure that an election is conducted in a proper and correct way.

The “electoral college” is a hybrid entity consisting of three distinct entities; the national popular vote, a list of Electors agreed upon by the legislature of each state, and the “people” who choose the Electors by voting at the general election. Each of these entities has an entirely different purpose. The national popular vote gives every citizen one vote, regardless of how many Electors are present in the state. The list of Electors ensures that each person chosen by the voters at the general election have an opportunity to be seated in the House and Senate and to vote on bills and other legislative measures. Finally, the Electors are accountable to the public for their decision and are subject to accountability to the voters for their decisions.

The trivia question posed above might have a simple answer; however the answer is more complex. For starters, the list of Electors is not generated by the legislature until after the general election. Once the general election occurs, each state’s Electors are requested to vote in their respective districts and each Elector is required to fill in the necessary declaration page with their name, district, and seat. Thus, even if a state with a low turnout rate (due to an unusually high number of spoiled ballots) elects an unusually high number of Electors, that state’s list of Electors will still have a few people who are not entitled to vote because they are not residents of that particular district. Because of this, most states use “college voting system,” which involves awarding a primary vote to the candidate who receives the largest number of votes in each congressional district.

The actual process for choosing the Electors starts at the state House and moves through the various statehouses until it reaches the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually reaches the U.S. Senate. In any case, the process can be a lengthy one. Electors are usually chosen from a list of names submitted by the candidates themselves. This list is forwarded to the Electors by the candidates or their representatives in the state.

Beyond the actual list of Electors, each state uses a different set of voting rules for electing its Electors. States that use proportional representation choose their Electors based on how many popular votes each candidate receives. States that use “winner-take-all” systems also decide whom their Electors are by totaling the popular vote in each congressional district. Lastly, there are states with “winner-take-all” laws but which have a proportional allocation of Electors. States which use different systems for allocating the Electors can be confusing to those who are not knowledgeable about how the process works.

Would A National Popular Vote Be Better Than The Electoral College?

For Americans and people around the world, one of the great mysteries is the electoral college. The Founding fathers created the electoral college as a compromise between allowing the Senate to elect the President and the people. Unlike most of the world, U.S. voters are not voting for the President in their elections. Instead, they are voting for a group of electors from their state to cast a vote for the President. The complexity of the electoral college system has led to calls for the U.S. to the simpler popular vote model.

How Does the Electoral College Work?

In 1787, politicians in the U.S. had become deadlocked about how they would elect a President. The options available included a first past the post-winner-takes-all popular vote. The second option was for Congress to vote on who would be in charge of the nation.

A bitter split emerged between the northern and southern states regarding the best way to elect a President. To balance the needs of the north and the south, the Electoral College was created. The winner of the popular vote in each state is voted for by a group of electors who usually follow the result of the popular vote as they elect the President.

Rogue Voters

Electors have occasionally turned against the voters of their state. In 2016, two electors changed the name of the winning candidate in their states as part of a “not trump” campaign. A legal battle ensued that ended at the Supreme Court. The decision from the Supreme Court explained the Founding Fathers did not require the Electoral College electors to follow the results of the popular vote.

Why Switch to a Popular Vote?

Way back in 1934, politicians fell just two votes short of switching from the Electoral College to the popular vote. Support remains high among Democrats for a switch, but Republican voters feel the Electoral College gives them a better chance of winning The White House.

The biggest argument for switching to the popular vote is how Presidential candidates spend their time on the campaign trail. In Presidential elections in the 21st-century, candidates have focused their time and attention on four states. These swing states hold the keys to The White House because the other 46 states and the District of Columbia vote along party lines. Presidential candidates have spent the majority of their time and money in Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio in the 21st-century. By prioritizing these states, candidates are ignoring the majority of voters they hope will vote along traditional party lines.

Losing the Popular Vote but Winning the Election

In 2016, President Donald Trump won the electoral college and took The White House. The problem for Democrats was that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million, without taking the swing states needed to win the election. President George W. Bush also won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore in 2000.

Several states have introduced legislation to allow the popular vote to be used to elect the President. 33 states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation to require electors to cast their vote with the people. The legal framework has already been passed in 15 states and the District of Columbia in preparation for a switch to using the popular vote in Presidential elections. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement requiring state electors to follow the results of the popular vote.

Using the popular vote is growing in popularity, but changing the Constitution is a drawn-out process. Although the majority of voters support changing the election model, political leaders show little enthusiasm for the change.