By the time we all get to bed tonight – or more likely tomorrow morning – we will have heard a lot about the Electoral College.
First of all, there’s no such thing.
“Electoral College” is simply a convenient nickname for the body of electors who choose the President and Vice President of the United States.
Under the federal Constitution, the President isn’t elected by the people. He or she is elected by a group of delegates chosen by the people.
Each state gets to choose as many electors as it does members of Congress.
So every state has at least three electors. Two for its Senators, and at least one for its Congressman.
Of course, the bigger states have lots of Congressmen, so they have lots of electors.
These electors are supposed to get together and decide who will be the President. At least that’s what the Constitution says.
It doesn’t exactly work out that way.
The electors themselves are elected by the people. Right from the beginning of our nation, candidates for electors ran around telling everybody who they would vote for as President, so the idea that these electors are all pledged to somebody is a pretty solid tradition.
In 200 years, there have only been about one or two unfaithful electors who went back on their pledge.
Of course, if somebody wins the Presidential election, then dies before Christmas, the electors will have some real work to do.
There have been many efforts to change the system. The Constitution requires a candidate to receive a majority of the electoral votes.
So, if Ross Perot or Ralph Nader get enough votes to keep either major party from winning a majority, the electors will stalemate and the decision will go the House of Representatives.
The electoral system can frustrate the popular will. Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George Bush in 2000 both lost the popular vote but won the election.
From the earliest times, the states have required their electors to vote for the candidate who gets the most votes in the state. The winner-take-all custom is not required by the U.S. Constitution.
In fact two states allot electors otherwise. Maine and Nebraska each elect two electors statewide and one from each Congressional district.
There is currently a movement afoot to persuade state legislatures to agree that their electors should vote for the candidate who wins the national popular vote.
It’s called the Fair Vote organization. Their strategy is to get states with a total of 270 electoral votes to agree that their electors will vote for the national popular vote winner, no matter how their own state goes.
This is an interesting approach since it can be accomplished with far less support that would be required for a constitutional amendment.
The Fair Vote people make some very good arguments. They show that more than 90 percent of Presidential campaign effort goes into about 16 so called pivotal, battleground or ‘swing’ states.
If you are a Republican in New York or a Democrat in Texas, forget about voting for President. You have nothing to say about it.
Over 80 percent of the American people think the President should be popularly elected.
I thought Mitt Romney would have been very wise to announce in Tampa that he would not accept the Presidency unless he received a majority of the popular vote.
Would have made it an interesting race.