What Is the Electoral College and Why Do We Use It?

What Is the Electoral College and Why Do We Use It?

What Is the Electoral College?

When you submit your ballot to select the president and vice president every four years, you’re not actually voting for the candidates. Each November, citizens are instead casting a vote for presidential electors, also known as the Electoral College. What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College isn’t a physical location, it’s an election process. These electors are chosen by the people, and are the deciding factor in who becomes the next President of the United States of America.

This process is written into the U.S. Constitution, and was determined to be the fairest way to elect the highest office in the country. So, who are these electors, how does the process work, and what do citizens think about it? We’ll dive into all of that.

How Does the Electoral College Work?

At the present moment, there are currently 538 electors. Each state has a different number of electors that is equal to the state’s combined total of Senate and House of Representatives delegations.

Who are these electors? In accordance with the U.S. Constitution, anyone can serve as an elector.

During the onset of each presidential election year, each state’s group of elector candidates is nominated by groups like political parties. This selection process normally takes place at a state party convention, or in certain cases by the party state committee. Electors are normally state-elected officials, party leaders, or individuals that are strongly affiliated with the candidates.

When voters cast their ballot for president and vice president in November, the candidate who wins the majority of votes in that state wins that state’s electoral votes. The candidate that receives at least 270 of these votes will win the presidency.

The exceptions to this rule are Nebraska and Maine. In these two states, the top candidate receives two electoral votes (one for each Senator) while the remaining electoral votes are split between congressional districts. Unlike the winner-takes-all mentality of the other states, this makes it possible for each candidate to receive electoral votes from these two states.

Contrary to popular belief, electors are not required to vote for the candidates they represent. However, the majority (if not all) electors tend to vote in accordance with the candidate they are pledged to nominate.

Why Do We Use the Electoral College?

During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, several methods were considered for the election of the first official president.

The founding fathers wanted a compromise between electing the president via a vote in Congress, and electing the president by popular vote from the country’s qualified citizens. At the time, this was property-owning or tax-paying white males, who then made up about 6% of the population.

This compromise was reasoned to reconcile differences between state and federal interests, acknowledging the popular vote while giving less populated states a more equal voice. Essentially, the founding fathers believed that the Electoral College would balance the interests of high-population states and those that had smaller populations.

America, while in its youth, was still a vast continent. With so many citizens spread across a large country, it would be difficult to ensure that all voters had access to sufficient enough information to make an educated vote. The founding fathers argued that an Electoral College would make it easier to logically choose the best candidate for the position.

Is the Electoral College Outdated?

In the modern age, many voters have voiced concerns that the Electoral College is antiquated. A July 2018 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that two-thirds of respondents believe the United States should use the popular vote, with one-third supporting the Electoral College.

Though the unpopularity of the Electoral College system has been debated for years, opposition grew considerably following the 2016 presidential election. Though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, earning the majority of votes country-wide, Donald Trump won the most electoral votes based on state-specific victories – namely, unpredictable states with a higher number of electoral votes (such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania). These states are referred to as “swing states” and are more divided politically, meaning that their vote could go either way, and often decide the outcome of an election.

The existence of swing states means that candidates often ignore noncompetitive states and instead pour their resources into those that toggle between parties each election year. This has been deemed unfair by many who believe that the presidential candidates should campaign to the entire country, and not just a select few.

Opponents also argue that the candidate that wins the popular vote should win the presidency. While the candidate that garners the most votes also tends to win the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the position, unusual situations have happened in the past.

Aside from the 2016 presidential race, the same outcome took place in 2000. Though Al Gore won half a million more votes than George W. Bush, the latter won the presidency after winning the swing state of Florida. More specifically, he won after securing a mere 537 more votes in the Sunshine State.

The Electoral College has met some opposition over the years, but remains the way that the United States determines its next president. Only time will tell if this system continues for presidential elections of the future. 

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