Going to school on the Electoral College


It seems that every four years people need a reminder about the Electoral College and how the President is actually elected. On election day, if you vote in the Presidential election, you will not actually cast a ballot for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein or any other candidate for President. You will cast a vote for a slate of Electors. These Electors will then meet “on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December” after the election at a place determined by the legislature of each state, usually the state house, to cast the official votes for President and Vice President.

The Electoral College was established “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.” Each state gets a number of Electors equal to its total representation in Congress, one Elector for each member of the House of Representatives plus two Electors for the members of the Senate, and DC gets three Electors despite only being represented in Congress by a non-voting delegate in the House, and no representation in the US Senate.

Despite what some may claim, the Electors are not part of a shadow government deciding the President and Vice President. The Electors, and those seeking to be Electors, are selected or appointed either by the Presidential candidate (in the case of an independent candidate) or the state affiliate of the national party. In most cases the Electors are people who will be loyal to the party and on the given day will vote for the party nominee. In rare occurrence, an Elector will cast a vote for someone other than the candidate to whom they were pledged. John Hospers & Tonie Nathan received an Electoral vote in 1972 because of a so-called “Faithless Elector” in Virginia named Roger MacBride.

In every state, except Maine and Nebraska, Electors are elected in a winner-take-all system, meaning the candidate with the most votes wins all of the Electors in a given state. Maine and Nebraska use a system where the candidate with the most votes in each Congressional district wins a single Elector and the candidate with the most votes state-wide wins the two remaining Electors. In theory a candidate could win the two state-wide Electors without winning one of the district Electors, though it has never happened. However, these are not the only available methods for choosing the members of the Electoral College, nor are they the only methods that have been used.

The US Election Atlas says, the Individual Elector “method was the most common in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.” This method of choosing Electors had a voter cast his ballot directly for the Electors pledged to a candidate instead of voting for a slate of Electors pledged to a candidate. This method “has resulted in split electors in many instances where the state-wide election was close.”

One method that has not been used, though it was proposed in Colorado in 2004, would have allocated Electors proportionally to the statewide vote count. If this method would have been in place nationally in 2000, neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore would have earned a majority of the electors, with Bush earning 259 to Gore’s 257 and 12 for Nader. It’s plausible that if the election were conducted under proportional representation the results would have been different, though predicting the vote shift is nearly impossible.
Adopting proportional allocation of Electors will not only give more voters a voice in the Electoral College, it may serve to bring down the Two-Party system and that may be the reason it has never been adopted!