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Electoral College

by Maitreg

What is the Electoral College?

The electoral college is a system set up by the framers of the Constitution in Article 2, Section 1, and then altered by the 12th Amendment.   It assigns a certain number of electoral votes to each state (and Washington, D.C.) for the purpose of determining presidential elections.  The number of assigned electorates equals the number of congressmen where one vote is given for each House member and two votes for two Senators.

Why the Electoral College?

To understand the need for the Electoral College, you have to understand the foundation of the United States in the first place.  Notice that the country is named the "United States", not the "United People".  Independent sovereign states (nations) once inhabited this land.  They had their own independent governments.  They had militaries which defended their borders.  They had foreign ambassadors sent to other countries to establish regular treaties, just as independent nations do today.

Going back to the American Revolution, at that time, there were 13 colonies under British control.  These 13 colonies did not want to remain under the control of the King of England, so they basically "teamed up" and declared their independence from England.  A war ensued and their defeat of England won their independence outright.  But the colonial governments knew that this was not permanent.  They knew that England would one day come to regain control over the rich, fertile colonies in the New World.  The colonies knew that the only way to thwart such an attack in the future was to start building strong alliances with each other in the present.  Over the next 10+ years after the war, the colonies explored different ways of strong unions that would not only guard against future invasions by Mexico, France, and England, but would be strong enough to discourage those invasions in the first place.  Hence, the conclusion was that a permanent union needed to be formed, a union of independent sovereign states with a centralized limited government that could call on the states to defend each other in the future when necessary.  Legal documents would be needed to establish such a union, something that required the leaders of all states to sign and be bound to.  The Constitution was born and so was the United States.

Shouldn't a presidential election be determined by a popular vote in a democracy?

Yes.  But we don't live in a democracy.  We live in a federation/republic.   The best example of this is the U.S. Congress.  The Congress is divided into two houses.  The House of Representatives was created as a representation of the will of the people, giving each equally populated block of citizens a single representation with equal power.  The Senate, on the other hand, which is more powerful, is not a representation of the people, but a representation of the states (state governments, if you will).  In the Senate, each state has exactly two representatives, giving EVERY state equal power.  The Senate was created to encourage those very small states to enter the Union.  Otherwise, it would not be logical for states with tiny populations (relative to the U.S. population) to enter into a true representative Union as they would be relinquishing their own sovereign power over themselves by doing so.

When thinking about government decisions, it sometimes helps to relate them to your own personal situation.  Think about moving into a new apartment versus living alone.   Let's assume that you have lived alone for several years and have somewhat enjoyed the freedom with running your apartment the way you see fit.  Now let's assume that you have agreed to move into a 5-bedroom apartment with four of your friends.  Is the new apartment going to be run exactly the way you see fit?  Are you going to get the shower for as long as you want anytime you wanted as you did when living alone?  Of course not.  But there is the security factor.  Most of us feel much more secure when living with others than living alone.  This is very similar to a state's decision to enter the United States.  They have much more power as an independent nation that they would relinquish when joining the Union, but the Union offers a certain level of security that they could not have had otherwise.  But that security could also be emulated by simple alliances with the United States (i.e. Puerto Rico, Guam), and if such security could be achieved without acceding the United States, it would be very foolish to join.  This is exactly why Puerto Rico and Guam are not U.S. states.   They CHOOSE not to be.  This is very confusing to those American citizens who've been brainwashed into believing that the United States is a perfect union that no sensible nation could resist.  Puerto Ricans aren't stupid.  They like their independence.  Now they have managed to do the genius thing of maintaining independence while creating an alliance with the most powerful nation on Earth that would certainly defend you if you have run into any problems.  In Puerto Rico's case, they are having their cake and eating it too.

So then the question arises as to why any state would ever join the United States in the first place.  The answer is in the Senate and Electoral College.  A state with 1/100 of the population of the United States would actually have a voice greater than 1/100 of Congress.  The two equal-power Senators are the ONLY way to encourage newcomers into joining the U.S.  Similarly, the Electoral College which is framed exactly the same as the U.S. Congress gives that necessary extra voice to the small states.

How do states determine which candidate(s) get their Electoral College votes?

This is determined by the individual state.  Remember the whole purpose of the Electoral College in the first place was to let the states cast their votes for the presidency.  Therefore the states must be allowed to cast the votes in any way they see fit to any candidate they wish.  In 48 states and Washington, D.C. all electoral votes are cast for the candidate who wins the popular vote.  Maine and Nebraska allow their electoral votes to be given to the candidate who wins each of their districts (Maine 2, Nebraska 3).  Then the other two votes are given to the candidate who wins the popular vote.  This system seems to work remarkably well, and even the anti-Electoral College liberals find very little to argue against this arrangement.

It should be known that the most popular argument against the Electoral College system in this country is against casting all state electoral votes for the candidate who wins by the slightest of margins in the state.  Those that consider this a flaw in the system should not blame this on the Electoral College but on the individual states.  If you would like for this to be changed in your state, you should contact your state government representatives.  Keep in mind that the smaller states tend to favor a "winner-take-all" system because it maximizes the state's voice in the electorate.  When a state divides its votes among two or more candidates, its voice is also divided and it loses power.

How many electoral votes does a presidential candidate have to receive to win the presidency?

An absolute majority.  Technically, it is 50% + 1.  Since there are currently 538 electoral votes (in 2000), a presidential candidate must receive 270 to win the presidency.  In rare cases, no candidate has received an absolute majority.  In this situation, the new Vice President would be chosen by the Senate with the winner receiving the most votes.   The President, however, would be chosen by a unique election in the House of Representatives.  Each state would get exactly one vote toward a single candidate.   States that are divided equally along party lines may not conclude a winner for the state.  So they may abstain from the voting entirely.  But in this House election, the winner must receive an absolute majority (26) of the House votes.  If no candidate was able to receive the required number of votes in the House, the Vice President (chosen by the Senate) would officially become the President.  The selection of the new Vice President at this point is unclear and may be appointed by the new President.

The Presidential election has been sent to the House once before.  In 1824, four different candidates received electoral votes, and none of them received an absolute majority.  The vote then went to the House and John Quincy Adams was elected as the president.

What would happen if we abolished the Electoral College?

This is basically common sense.  What would happen when you decrease the power of government representation for a group of states?  What if we abolished the U.S. Senate?  This is exactly the same thing.  Abolishing the Electoral College or Senate would reduce the government representation of the smallest states to make it illogical to remain in the Union.  This has happened before, in 1860.  I shouldn't need to remind you of the 620,000 deaths over the next five years after that.   You think that was bloody?  Try abolishing the Electoral College or Senate in the 21st Century.  You'll see division in this country not seen since the War for Southern Independence.  Only this time, the two sides are not geographically separated.  Our decades of racial, religious, and political integration in this country will come to haunt us in the future.  It will be then when the nation's integrity and peace are ultimately challenged.  Can we divide into two nations peacefully with few problems or will the liberals insist that we fight another war?  Is 10 million deaths worth a segment of the country retaining domination over the rest?  Only time will tell.  I hope and pray that future leaders will foresee the blood-shedding and prevent it before it's too late.

So who would want to abolish the Electoral College if it tears the country apart?

The same people who want to do away with ALL states' rights.  They don't understand the purpose of having states in the first place.  These people would prefer living under an omnipotent centralized government.   They believe that their lives will be much more secure under such rule.  Those of us who oppose such government power recognize that a strong centralized government that can deliver perfect security from invading and interior forces then itself becomes the primary enemy as it controls its own power limits.  If you let anyone or anything determine its own limit of power, then it will choose not to limit itself.  A "secure" nation is one with a perfect balance of limited government and national/domestic defense.  Any shift in either direction leaves the population at serious risk to domestic and/or foreign opposition.

Books about the Electoral College

bullet After the Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College by Walter Berns
bullet The Choice of the People? Debating the Electoral College by Judith A. Best
bullet Choosing a President: The Electoral College and Beyond by Paul Shumaker & Burdette Loomis
bullet The Electoral College and the Constitution by Robert M. Hardaway
bullet The Electoral College Primer 2000 by Lawrence D. Longley and Neil R. Peirce
bullet The Origins of the Twelfth Amendment by Tadahisa Kuroda
bullet The People's President: The Electoral College in American History and the Direct Vote Alternative by Neil R. Peirce and Lawrence D. Longley
bullet Wrong Winner: The Coming Debacle in the Electoral College by David W. Abbott and James P. Levine


bullet EC: The US Electoral College Web Zine
bullet The Electoral College: Then, Now, and Tomorrow by Erik Wikman
bullet Encyclopedia Americana: Electoral College
bullet Time to Reform the Electoral College by Ellen Sung
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