Electoral college

I don’t know if this one has been answered, but I 'm hoping it hasn’t. there is something in the U.S known as the electoral college. I think David Feldman explained this in one of his imponderable books, but I didn’t understand exactly what it is. The most i got from it is that most people are not aware of it and it’s a outdated practice, but we keep it for tradition.

Anyone want to try explaining the electoral college in really, really simple terms?

Huh? Are you an American? Of course most Americans are well aware of it. It gets discussed a lot every four years during the Presidential election. I’ll let other people explain it better, but here is the Wikipedia entry:

This thread will likely end up in Great Debates because it is highly controversal. Far from keeping it just because of “tradition,” it has been the subject of many arguments.

Whatever the merits of the electoral college, we don’t just keep it for tradition. It is in the Constitution, the bar for passing an amendment is so high that in the current climate no amendment is ever going to pass. Any proposed amendment is going to be viewed by the party not proposing it as a partisan move that will screw their party. Every four years there is a flurry of talk about changing the system, and every four years its obvious that there is little will to do anything.

Yeah, it’s not just tradition. You’ve got to remember that the U.S. is made up of 50 smaller governments, one for each state. The electoral college is a compromise between having each government (i.e. state) have the same amount of votes and the votes being divvied up by population alone.

The main argument for getting rid of this is that the states really aren’t really entirely separate anymore, and should not get in the way of having a pure majority of citizen votes determine who wins.

It became a lot more well known after 2000 when Bush won the EC vote but lost the popular vote.

A pure majority vote would allow candidates to campaign exclusively towards the most populous cities or states to the detriment of everyone else. The Electoral College levels the playing field a bit so that the rest of the country can’t be ignored.

Do they campaign now in Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas or other small states?

They do if the states are in play. Three electoral votes of Montana are out of proportion to their population, so it’s worthwhile to campaign there. However all of the smaller states favor one party strongly (four are strongly Republican and one is strongly Democratic), so campaigning there is not important (if you’re going to win or lose a state, you don’t visit).

The idea for the Electoral College was to set up an independent body, beholden to no one, that can select the President. The electors are in theory free agents and the writers of the Constitution figured they’d get together and elect the best qualified man for the job. They also expected that the Electoral College would rarely get a majority and merely act as sort of a “nominating convention” so the House of Representatives could choose a winner.

What Reality Chuck is correct. Each state gets as many votes in the EC as the total number of senators (2) and representatives combined. So each state, no matter how small, gets at least three. California gets the most, about 45 I think. The electoral college meets in December and votes for President and VP (this represents a change from the original as a result of a disaster in the 1800 election). Anyone who gets a majority is elected. If no one does, then the house chooses from among the top three, each state having one vote. (For VP, the senate chooses from among the top 2). This choice in the house happened just once, in 1824, and it was a travesty. Andrew Jackson had won the most electoral votes, but John Quincy Adams was a better bargainer and after many ballots the house chose Adams and the speaker of the house, I think it was Henry Clay, but I am too lazy to look it up, became Secretary of State.

Could it happend today? Well, the number of representatives and hence of electors is odd, so you would need a third candidate who won at least one vote. Nowadays, electors are supposedly pledged to vote for the candidate who wins the state, but over the years several electors have ignored their pledge and nothing happened to them. I suppose that in '92 there was a serious possibility that Ross Perot might win a state. The last election in which a third party got any electoral votes was in 1948 when four states (and one other rogue elector) voted for the Dixiecrat candidate (an anti-black party of the south), but Truman won anyway.

If it did happen, it would be a disaster. Imagine in a close election, 24 state delegations had a Dem majority and 24 a Rep majority, the other two being split down the middle. It could make the Frankman/Coleman election look like a cakewalk. It seems clear that no president would be chosen by Jan 20, nor by July 20 and I have no idea how the US would be governed. Is there a provision that the outgoing president would remain until someone qualified? Everyone realizes this would be a disaster, but there is no consensus for doing anything about it.

Incidentally, there is no provision in the US constitution that the electors be elected by popular vote, although every state does so. Had the Florida constitution permitted it, it would have been perfectly legitimate for the Florida legislature to have chosen the electors.

This is incorrect. You’re forgetting that DC has three electors as well, making a total of five hundred thirty-eight.

This sentence confuses me. I’ve never voted for an elector to the electoral college. Could you clarify what you mean by that sentence.

Technically, when you cast a vote for POTUS, you’re casting a vote for his party’s electors rather than the candidate himself. There is rarely a distinction in practice between the two, except the oddball faithless elector from time to time, but it is there.

It should be noted that the Electoral College is one remaining leftover from the compromises done by the original Constitution framers over slavery. Now it’s commonly viewed as helping small states vs. larger states, but originally it was really slave states vs. free states, mainly.

You sins really do live beyond you!

Despite what you see on your ballot, which typically lists only the candidates, legally speaking you do not vote for the candidates but for the slate of electors that are pledged to them.

Because you vote for electors rather than candidates, the possibility exists that some electors will not vote as pledged, creating what is called a faithless elector. That opens the possibility that a few electors in a very close election could throw the results to the opposing candidate or send the whole election to the House of Representatives by not giving any of the candidates a majority of electors. That’s one of the major objections to the retention of the Electoral College. It’s never happened in reality, but the possibility rightly scares people.

Actually, in 1968 George Wallace won 46 electoral votes from the deep south.

Also in 1972, a faithless elector pledged to Nixon cast his vote for the Libertarian candidate instead.

According to the Wiki article there are some safeguards against faithless electors causing problems.

BTW, I think this is what the OP is talking about in regards to the electoral college being ‘only kept for tradition’. That is, the idea that state electors actually vote for the President, not the idea of having to win a majority of electoral votes rather than popular ones.

Although the state electors technically are still the ones who actually cast the votes for President, for all intents and purposes the election is decided on election night by the count of electoral votes. Electoral votes are 100% thought of as “things” and not people.

Whomever the Senate elects as Vice-President would become Acting President until the House elected a President.

Your emphasis is in the wrong place. Rather than saying there are some safeguards, it’s more accurate to say that there are some safeguards.

Note that the “winner take all” aspect of the EC is one of the perceived problems. For one thing, it magnifies the result - a 53% to 43% popular vote victory (with 4% going to minor parties) becomes a massive landslide. Nebraska and Maine DO provide for splitting their electoral vote. Rather than trying to change the constitutional mechanism, it might be possible to get more states to do this, making the EC track the popular vote more closely, without having to disturb anything too much. It would still be too granular, and would still be skewed because of the greater representation of the smaller states, but it might be easier to accomplish. You need one of the big states to decide to split their vote. On the surface, that would seem difficult because the large states don’t want to lose the clout they get by having the large block on the line. Tactically, it MIGHT play in some states like California, though - CA has been ignored in recent presidential elections because the Republicans view it as a total write-off that they have no chance of winning, and the Democrats know it’s a lock. Similar remarks may apply for Texas in many presidential years with the parties reversed. You can point out that the possibility of getting, say, 24 electoral votes instead of 20 out of CA’s 55 might make presidential candidates actively pursue CA votes.

The little states like it 'cause it makes them more important than they would be otherwise.

The main argument to get rid of it, is that it would force the candidates to campaign in EVERY state. As it stands, I live in Illinois which went overwhelmingly for Mr Obama. So he didn’t do any campaigning here.

As a result my take on him was much less, 'cause I never got to hear any of his campaign.

To abandon the Electoral College would lead to cries of “abandoning of federalism” which the courts are very slowly doing away with anyway.

As for faithless electors you would have to wait till an actual election where the vote of a faithless elector makes the difference to see what the Supreme Court says. Despite what state laws there are, they would be challanged in a close election if a faithless elector voted a way that effected the outcome of the election.

We would most likely see the Supreme Court rule on that particular faithless elector law in a way they want, so it influences the outcome of the election as the majority of the Supreme Court wants.

You can make any law you want, to get the Supreme Court to uphold it is another thing