Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
Concord Learning Systems

The Electoral College and how it works


Every two years there are 50 separate STATE elections plus Washington, D.C. In cycles of four years, a President, a Vice-President, and all members to the House of Representatives are elected. Two years later House members must again stand for election. U.S. Senators are elected for six year terms. One-third of the total of 100 U.S. Senators must run for re-election every two years.

The United States came into existence in 1788 when New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify the Constitution. Some argue that the actual date was 1790 when Rhode Island ratified as the 13th state. Nonsense. The Constitution says that a nation would be created with the ratification of 9 states.

It doesn't matter which date is used. Since then, there has NEVER been a national election. A comprehension of that fact is essential to understanding the events of the 2000 Presidential.

The general public usually has trouble tracking public events because the U.S. press corps fails miserably in reporting the details. That is natural because reporters are "educated" in the same institutions as the general public. The people who work for news outlets fall into two categories: Those who are dumber than dirt and the ones who think all others are dumber than dirt. Because reporters and editors fall into these two categories, they have, since the beginning, reported Presidential elections using the TOTAL national votes instead of the only votes that matter, the electoral votes. The total popular vote has NO meaning in ANY Presidential election.

In the United States, elections for President, Vice-President, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives, are ALL state elections. The election laws are made by the states, administered by the states, and enforced by the states. Senators and Representatives are elected directly by popular vote of the people of each state. The President and Vice-President are NOT elected by popular vote. In fact, the hyperbole from the press about the TOTAL popular vote is fun to watch and talk about but has no other value.

The Constitution specifies that each state shall select a number of ELECTORS (people to cast the actual votes) equal to the number of Representatives and Senators from that state. For example, North Carolina had 12 Representatives and all states had two Senators for the 2000 election. Therefore, NC was allowed 14 ELECTORS. The allotment of Representatives was based on the 1990 census. The number of Representatives allocated to each state will be revised (reapportioned) based on the 2000 census and the numbers indicate that NC will gain one seat. That will give NC 15 electors for the election of 2004. No state can have fewer than 3 electors because each state is guaranteed one representative plus two senators.

There is a total of 538 electors. The number is determined thus: There are 435 Representatives in the House, plus 100 Senators, plus (by special amendment to the Constitution) 3 electors for Washington, D.C. There are 7 states which have the minimum of 3 electors. They are: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The only Constitutional restriction to qualification as an elector is that the person may NOT hold any federal office. An elector could be a member of the state legislature, the Governor, Lt. Governor, the local mail carrier, or a patient in a mental institution.

Political parties with candidates for President and Vice-President select electors for their parties but the names of those electors may or may not appear on the ballot depending on the law of the state. In some states the names of the electors appear on the ballots just below the names of the candidates. Usually, there is one elector for each of the congressional districts plus two at-large for the Senators.

In NC the winning Presidential candidate of the popular election gets all of the states electoral votes regardless of how the congressional districts voted. In Maine and Nebraska, electoral votes are awarded based on the outcomes of the congressional districts, and the overall winner is awarded the two at-large votes.

When a person cast a vote they are voting for the elector, who is then expected to cast one vote each for President and Vice-President. In some states the elector may decide (after the election) to vote for someone else. In NC the elector is (unconstitutionally) bound by NC law to cast the vote based on the results of the popular election. However, if the NC elector decides to vote for someone else the vote stands. The only penalties are that the elector is fined $500, may be dismissed from the party, and branded for life as a "faithless elector." If such nonsense as fining a faithless elector is ever challenged in federal court, it will be quickly ruled unconstitutional.

"Neither the Constitution nor Federal law prescribe the manner in which each State appoints its electors other than directing that they be appointed on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November." [For the year 2000 that was November 7.]

The above paragraph is from a Web Page of the U.S. House of Representatives and shows that the Constitution allows states to choose the method for appointing electors. The Constitution does NOT specify that electors are to be chosen by popular vote. Electors could be selected by the legislature, the Governor, or whatever, although we would not want to be standing near anyone who might propose such an interesting plan. Also, although that is the letter of the law as specified in the Constitution, it is almost certain that most all Federal Judges would rule such an idea unconstitutional, thereby making up a new law and changing the Constitution WITHOUT an amendment. However, when the case gets to the U.S. Supreme Court the justices there would simply read the Constitution and agree that the state legislatures may decide the method for choosing electors.

Reading the history of the debates which framed the Constitution, it is clear that "original intent" WAS to limit public access to the ballot box in ALL elections for federal office. The founders fully intended that only select citizens, i.e., white property owners, would have a vote. However, reason prevailed and it was left out of the Constitution and left to the states to decide. This is clearly one area of "original intent" where the public would overwhelmingly agree that the system has evolved into a greatly improved concept.

How does the federal government get involved when there is a dispute over a state election? By simply agreeing that they, the feds, are protecting a citizen's civil rights, due process, or equal protection. From the perspective of those arguments federal courts will hear cases which might show the state trying to exclude certain citizens or where errors are so egregious that citizens may be denied the right to an equal and fair vote.

What value is the Electoral College? It is of enormous value to mid-size and smaller states. It is the only way for small states to be heard in Presidential elections.

To win the Presidency a candidate needs 270 electoral votes. That can be achieved with the top 11 states: California 54, New York 33, Texas 32, Florida 25, Pennsylvania 23, Illinois 22, Ohio 21, Michigan 18, New Jersey 15, North Carolina 14, and Georgia or Virginia 13. However, losing just one of these large states means that the candidate must find a way to make up the difference. That's where smaller states come into play. If the Electoral College were eliminated candidates would not move to smaller states to make up the difference. They would move to the large cities because that's where the people are. It is much more efficient to gather an additional 500,000 votes in New York City than in Wyoming.

Notice that there is suddenly an outcry to abolish the Electoral College. Also notice where the folks live who are most interested in eliminating the College. They are from those few states which could pick each President by overwhelming numbers of popular votes. No one who fully understands the process from Wyoming, Alaska, Rhode Island, or South Carolina is calling for the elimination of the College.

Looking at it another way, the electoral vote total of the top 20 states is 381, or more than 70% of the overall total. The electoral count of the bottom 20 states is 80, or less than 15% of the overall total, but the bottom 15% has some power because of the need to make up election loses in the big 11.

California has over 33 million people, is growing fast and could, if highly energized, cast over 25% or more of a total popular vote. However today, whether California turns out 10,000,000 or 25,000,000 voters under the Electoral College system, its influence is limited to 54 electoral votes or less than 20% of the overall total needed to win.

Elimination of the Electoral College would be a huge incentive for high population states on the coasts and in the upper mid-west to vote as blocks. We already have voting blocks of Blacks, Hispanics, women, Jews, Poles, Italians, American Indians, and others. The election of 2000 shows a distinct pattern of regionalism, i.e., southern and mountain states versus the coastal states and upper mid-west. The results clearly show the areas of the country interested in receiving federal money for mass transit, roads, bridges, tunnels, schools, welfare, and social programs in general. The 2000 results also separates areas of interest like gun control, abortion, smaller government, etc.

The Electoral College was written into the Constitution as one of the last items on the agenda of the Constitutional Convention. It was debated long and hard. Its purpose was to provide some equalization between small and large states. It has NOT outlived its purpose as the pundits of large states claim. That is clear from the election of 2000. Notice, now that she is a Senator from a very large state, Hillary Clinton is for elimination of the Electoral College.

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