The Electoral College

The+Electoral+College

Joe Iasso

With the 2016 election cycle in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to discuss a subject in American politics most people know very little about: the Electoral College. Outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the Electoral College is the method by which our president and vice president are elected to office.

This may come as a shock to those of you who didn’t pay attention in American history in high school, or haven’t taken a political science class here (I highly recommend PO 131), but those of you who have studied the Constitution know that we do not directly elect the president. Instead, he/she is elected by a group of 538 people, known as “electors” which make up the electoral college.

The number 538 comes from the 435 of members of the House of Representatives, plus 100 senators, plus three extra for Washington, D.C. Those 538 members are divided to all 50 states.

Who are they? Typically, people active in state and local politics. For example, the executive of my home county is an elector for my state.

Why do we have the Electoral College? Frankly, it’s because the founders thought we were all dumb. They were afraid that the voting population (at the time, white men above the age of 21) would select a candidate that was bad for the country, and having a select group of people make the decision would be a better method to elect the person who leads us.

For many years now, electors have simply voted for the candidate that wins the popular vote in their state, but this is where the system gets tricky.

First, no federal law or line in the Constitution says that electors have to vote for the person that won the popular vote in their state. According to the National Archives, electors have followed the popular vote 99 percent of the time, but they can easily vote for another candidate and not be prosecuted.

While the electors do make the system slightly democratic by voting for the candidate who wins their state, doing this leaves out a large population of voters. If you vote for a Republican in Connecticut or a Democrat in Mississippi, your vote really doesn’t count. Every Republican in Connecticut could decide not to vote on election day and it would make no difference in the results because of this system. This is a big reason for the fact that our voter turnout is typically around 50 percent for presidential elections.

The Electoral College can also make a candidate win the electoral vote, but lose the popular vote. This has happened in the past, most recently in 2000 when George W. Bush won the electoral vote but Al Gore won the popular vote. To me and most people who study politics, this is absolutely outrageous.

At this point in American history, it is quite clear that the Electoral College is not necessary and needs to be abolished. Many bills have been introduced to do this, but sadly, none of them ever went to a full vote in the house or senate. This is likely because an increased voter turnout is usually bad for establishment politicians, hence the hesitance to bring the proposal to a vote.

Hopefully, the huge amount of new voters who have come out of this election cycle will realize this fault and demand it be abolished.