A Guide to Navigating Through America’s Confusing Electoral Process
According to USA.org the explanation for the electoral college is the following: “each state gets a certain number of electors based on its total number of representatives in Congress. Each elector casts one electoral vote following the general election; there are a total of 538 electoral votes. The candidate that gets more than half (270) wins the election.” If you are a state like California, you will get more electoral votes since they are the largest state in terms of population which means they have more members in congress. The more members in congress your state have, the more electoral votes your state gets.
In reality, it is a more complicated process than it seems. Through this guide, I hope to provide a deeper dive into analyzing the process behind the electoral college as well as provide different points of view. Ultimately I hope to provide you, the reader, with the information needed to make up your own mind.
The Electoral College Explained
According to the National Archives, the electoral college consists of 538 electors, and a candidate would need to secure 270 of these electors to win. The number 538 was established in 1964. The electors from each state equal the total number of congressional representatives and senators from each state.
Each state appoints its own electors, called Slates. Slates are picked by the candidate’s party, although there are different rules and regulations for each state on how the parties electors are appointed. According to the National Archives, it is mostly a winner takes all approach, although two states have it based on proportional representationAfter the national election, the state’s governors begin by certifying each state’s election for president. This is done by filling out forms to tally up each electoral vote that the candidate received for each state. Each elector meets in December to make the election results official by casting their votes, this is usually just a formality as the election has already been decided at this point.
The final step is a joint session of congress officially certifies the presidential election on January 6th, and on January 20th the elected president is sworn in.
A video linked below shows a simplified process of how all the steps work in concert with each other.
Complaints towards the Electoral College
The Electoral College has been around since the birth of the country. Every presidential election since the election of Geroge Washington, has abided by this system. In the last 20 years, there have been discrepancies that lead to questioning the legitimacy of the Electoral College. However, there have been five times in the history of presidential elections where the candidate to secure a majority of electoral votes, failed to secure a majority in a popular vote. Two of these times have happened since the year 2000. This has led to many questions as to whether the process itself is democratic.
Once the winner of the election within the particular state is determined, it is a winner- take-all. That means the votes of the losing candidate do not count. This fuels some of the concerns many voters have is that their vote doesn’t matter. For example, the votes of southern Democrats who live in a Republican-held state likely will not change anything. Interestingly, congressional and senate elections are decided by a popular vote system. Many view this and wonder why this system is not used during the presidential election as well. A majority of Americans feel the same way according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that almost 6 in 10 Americans still favored replacing the system entirely. Six in 10 is a staggering opposition to the current system.
Another valid argument is winning the Electoral College votes doesn’t represent the will of the people. You only have to win a simple majority of state electors to win an election. The people have almost no involvement since they are only electing people to vote, and if you live in a blue or red state your input matters even less.
It is a winner takes all situation, so if it is a close race the winner takes all of that state’s electors, as opposed to a Democratic primary where if a candidate can secure a certain percentage, he or she can secure some of the state’s delegates. Some states are either heavily partisan or have so few electoral votes, they would not make a difference in a general election and because of this, candidates don’t visit those states. The election then come down to just a few states called swing states.
Some believe one person should equal one vote. In a popular vote election, one person does equal one vote. However, in an electoral college system it’s population-based. In California there are 40 million people; it would equal just 55 electoral votes. The number of congressmen is 53 with 2 senators. No state has an equal number of members of congress so not every state is considered to be equal.
The Case for the Electoral College
The case for the Electoral College has valid points as well such as the following: according to National Affairs Magazine the framers of the Constitution had decided to put this measure in place. The process’ defenders claimed that the state’s national electors are elected by the state’s popular vote. That is a valid point to make, that the popular vote is used to elect the electors for that state’s chosen candidate. An argument mentioned in the National Affairs article was that we were not a direct democracy. The argument was that the framers of the constitution had intended us to become a more federal republic.
The biggest concern is that even abolishing the Electoral College is what is popular and would be at the pleasure of many. They are concerned with the dismantlement of federalism. As mentioned in the article, it would dilute the importance of the Senate and would diminish the power of the states giving more power to the federal government.
States have the power to ratify new amendments with the use of their state legislatures. States have the power to even terminate the National Constitution, by calling for a national convention for the states to attend, even though that would be highly unlikely to ever happen. You would have a better chance of winning the lottery. Regardless, powers such as these are the ones that would be gone if the Electoral College was abolished and the system of federalism would be done away with. This would diminish the role of a state as a separate entity, and according to the article, there is little belief that it would create a more democratic process if we were to reform our elections.
There are concerns that certain states would have more influence over other states. California and New York among others would yield more power in a popular vote election since they are the biggest states in terms of population. This concerns smaller states who do not have a lot of people living in their respective states.
The Electoral College is a hot topic at present and there are arguments on both sides of the coin.
USA.gov : https://www.usa.gov/election
National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/about
National Popular Vote: https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/written-explanation