I want to talk about a topic that most people know pretty much nothing about, really:
The Electoral College.
In the interest of blissful ignorance, I have to wonder just how many people are aware of just how this antiquated system works?
Did you know that we do not elect the President and Vice President of the United States?
Nope. We do not elect them. We cast a vote, sure…but the actual election is done by 538 people.
That’s right, READ THAT AGAIN. With a population of more than 310 million people, more than 200 MILLION of whom can cast a vote – 538 people actually select the most powerful office in the nation, arguably in the world.
538/200,000,000. Don’t do the math, it will only hurt your brain.
How did this come to pass?
It was the founding fathers, during the constitutional convention. It came about as a check and balance whereby a number equal to the number of legislators allotted to each state (2 senators plus ‘x’ congresspeople – or, in the case of Washington, DC – 3) would be chosen to vote for the President and Vice President.
From Article II, section 1 of the Constitution:
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Ok, so no one had spellcheck back then. We can ignore that part.
But, hey – the 12th Amendment altered it…a little:
The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.
The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.
The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.
The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States
So there you have it. The constitutionally mandated mess that has come to be known collectively as The Electoral College.
So who are these select, powerful, 538 individuals who actually choose the leader of our nation?
Here’s the best part – they are APPOINTED, and not by any single standard means. Nope, too easy. There is not some federally mandated way in which electors get the duty – they are nominated by POLITICAL PARTIES, usually during conventions, sometimes in primaries – but each state gets to select HOW it will appoint the electors.
But wait – there’s MORE. Yes, just in case THAT wasn’t enough – an elector CAN choose to not vote as they are mandated to do – and can even choose to cast no ballot at all! Yes, that’s right – they can choose to do whatever they please. Sure, there are ‘fines’ and ‘penalties’ if they act as a “faithless elector” – but so what?
Yes, there are still arguments about the inherent ‘stability’ of our two-party system, or the federalist ideals that led to this system of electors in the first place. Sure, you can even make an argument about urban vs rural vote, greater vs lesser population state votes, you can even go ahead and argue that this is a tradition that should continue.
Seriously? It is the 21st century. Shouldn’t the election of the POTUS be an outright popular election? Shouldn’t our already jaded vote count for REAL?
If there are between 200 and 250 MILLION eligible voters out there, and they are encouraged to all go out and vote – shouldn’t that vote count for MORE than providing direction, which can be disregard, to 538 unelected electors?
Yes, this means that, while we are at it, we should probably create a FEDERALLY MANDATED standard for voting. Yes, I know – where will the money come from? I think this might be a less important question than this: How do we get anyone elected, legitimately, when all 50 states, plus DC, have no set standard they MUST follow?
Why are more people not enraged by this obscene, horrifically convoluted, outdated and outmoded system? Why, after the fiasco of 2000 – yes, remember THAT disaster? Why, after that, did NOTHING happen? Why did NOTHING change?
There are, let’s face it, two key factors that keep this system alive today. The first is legislative power. We the people may go out and cast votes for our President – but the legislative branch still holds the power of electing the president through the constitution.
The second is, I think, the most glaring:
THIS PERPETUATES THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM.
Let’s be honest – no third party candidate can ever, possibly win a presidential election with the PARTY APPOINTED 538 electors. Period. Doesn’t matter if he or she can get better than 50% of the popular vote – the popular vote pretty much doesn’t count.
I was stunned to learn the insidiousness of this system, and didn’t even realize it went back as far as it did.
I won’t deny, I can see legitimate justification for this in the days of the 13 colonies, no mass communication systems and no computers.
But not anymore. We can easily calculate a popular vote. And the power of the individual states to elect a president, who will represent the WHOLE NATION, should not matter. I believe this election should be decided BY THE PEOPLE.
Why aren’t we outraged by this travesty? Why do we not DEMAND our politicians fix this? We are so very lulled into a sense of false security, that our government will do our will – we do not take action.
This is another issue that should no longer be ignored, either by us, or by our politicians. The antiquated electoral college system should be done away with, and the vote of the people should decide our chief executive.
P.S. Just an FYI – I DID, after my last post, forward the open letter to my Congressman and Senators. Never found any direct email addresses, but found forms I could drop the letter into for email purposes. I got back a lovely canned response from the 87 year old Senator. It sort of touched on ONE point of my open letter. Nearly. Any other ideas?