Electoral College

The meaning of “Electoral College” does not refer to a place but a process. The Electoral College is the process by which the voters elect representatives, who then vote on who should become the next President of the United States. For example, the Electoral College declares who becomes the next President by having the sitting Vice President (who is also the President of the Senate) announce the winner after tallying up the Electoral College’s votes. To explore this concept, consider the following electoral college definition.

Definition of Electoral College

Noun

  1. The process through which the United States elects its President.

Origin

1787

What is the Electoral College?

The term “Electoral College” refers to the process by which the United States elects its Presidents. When American voters cast their ballots on Election Day for the person they want to be the next President, they are not directly voting for their presidential candidate. Instead, they are actually voting for how they want the Electoral College to vote.

The Electoral College then votes for the next President based on the results of the general election. For example, the Electoral College will vote for the Democratic candidate if the results of the general election sway in the direction of the Democratic nominee, and vice versa.

History of the Electoral College

As far as the history of the Electoral College goes, it used to be that over half of the country’s state legislatures chose the electors who would represent their states in an election. However, this changed over the course of the early 19th century, when states granted the right to vote to more of the country’s population. Now, and since 1880, each state chooses its electors based on the results of the election held on Election Day.

The early history of the Electoral College was rooted in the ideas and motivations held by the Framers of the Constitution. The Framers believed that the people should choose a president based on their feelings at that point in time. They did not believe a body like Congress or State legislatures should have the power to elect the President as part of their daily business, and they wanted the election to be free from foreign influence.

While the early history of the Electoral College provided that each government was free to choose its own electors as it saw fit, the Constitution did not provide specific methods by which the states could do this. The people immediately saw their mistake when they did not specify who they were voting for on their ballots and ended up electing a President and Vice President from differing political parties. This led to the creation of the 12th Amendment, which now requires electors to cast separate ballots for the President and Vice President.

Who are the Electors?

There is a process of selecting Electors from each state. There are certain qualifications to be an Elector that a candidate must meet in order to become an Elector. Once a candidate proves that he meets the qualifications to be an Elector, he then becomes a member of the process of selecting Electors and may ultimately become a member of the Electoral College, depending on the outcome of the general election on Election Day.

Qualifications to Be an Elector

There are not too many qualifications to be an Elector, but the Constitution does provide a guide. For instance, in Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, the Constitution provides that an Elector cannot already be a Senator or Representative, nor a person holding office. Another requirement is that a state official who has ever participated in or aided a rebellion against the U.S. or helped the enemy cannot serve as an Elector either.

Process of Selecting Electors

The process of selecting Electors is two-fold. First, each state’s political parties choose a group of potential Electors at a point before the general election. Then, on Election Day, each state’s voters choose their state’s Electors by casting their Presidential ballots. The winning Presidential candidate’s group of potential Electors then become their state’s Electors in all states except Nebraska and Maine, which award an Elector seat to more than one candidate.

Must Electors Vote a Certain Way?

There are no Constitutional or Federal laws requiring Electors to vote a certain way. However, in some states, Electors must cast their votes based on the results of the popular vote. State law binds certain Electors, while others make pledges binding them to a particular political party.

“Faithless Electors” are those who fail to vote as they had previously pledged to vote, like if an Elector pledged to vote Democratic and then votes Republican. Some states may either fine Faithless Electors or disqualify them from casting their vote, replacing them with a substitute Elector.

Pros and Cons to the Electoral College

Debaters have argued for years over the pros and cons to the Electoral College. When it comes to deciding whether this institution is the best method for selecting the next President of the U.S., these are the three biggest arguments vis-à-vis pros and cons to the Electoral College:

  • The Founding Fathers’ motivation behind creating the Electoral College
  • The delegation of power to the individual states
  • The ultimate outcome of the election

Some argue that the Founding Fathers thought the Electoral College was the best method possible for selecting the next American President. However, others disagree, saying that times have changed so much that whatever the Founding Fathers’ original intention was no longer matters at this point. Some argue that the Electoral College gives way too much power to “swing states,” letting them essentially decide the election. Others, however, feel the Electoral College gives every state the chance to participate in the election.

And, of course, one could not debate the pros and cons to the Electoral College examples without arguing over the end result: the outcome of the election. Some say the Electoral College guarantees a resolute outcome to the Presidential election. Others believe, especially after the 2000 election of George W. Bush as President, and the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump as President, that the Electoral College flat-out ignores the will of its own people.

Electoral College Example Involving the 2016 Election

An example of the Electoral College having a significant impact on a Presidential election occurred in 2016 during the election of Republican candidate Donald J. Trump, over the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. This was yet another election (like the ones in 1877, 1888, and 2000) wherein the Electoral College winner did not have the “popular vote,” or the majority of American voters in his favor.

In the 2016 election, Trump won 304 or 306 electoral votes, depending on the source. Either way, Trump became the fifth person in American history to become president despite losing the popular vote. He was also the first president not to have prior experience in public service or a military background, and he was the oldest president ever at inauguration. Some believe he is also the wealthiest American to ever become President.

Those opposed to the idea of the Electoral College refer to this and the George W. Bush election as some of the Electoral College examples that prove the country should simply do away with the concept and leave the voting of the next U.S. President to the American people – not to a group designated to vote on their behalf. They believe that such Electoral College examples prove that the Electoral College does not follow in the Framers’ ideas of how a democratic system should work.

These examples of Electoral College in action, according to critics, prove that this method violates the idea of political equality, since voters are not able to elect Presidents directly based on a “one-person one-vote principle.” Supporters of the Electoral College, however, believe that candidates must be able to build a geographically broad and diverse following, rather than a simple majority, and that they have a right to enjoy the fruits of the winner-takes-all outcome produced by the Electoral College.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Ballot – The process by which an individual votes, which usually occurs in writing and in secret.
  • Election – The formal process by which individuals elect a person to a public office, like the presidency.

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