Understanding the Electoral College

Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, but he did not lose the election.

This is due to the American Electoral College system, which was developed by our founding fathers as a means to insure that only a qualified person becomes President, despite popularity.

Until now, the Electoral College had been mostly a formality. Electors remained somewhat anonymous and unbothered. However, in the aftermath of this election, the electors have been thrown into a whirl of public opinion, targeted by death threats, harassing phone calls and hate mail from both sides. The public has refused to give up, despite the numerous state laws that bar or fine electors from voting against the state’s results. This is due to the uniqueness of this candidate and the concerns of his temperament and qualifications as president.

The Process

The number of electors is determined by a state’s allotted representation in Congress. Chosen by their state political parties, they are often party leaders or elected officials. Today, they meet in their states, typically at the capitol to cast two votes—one for president and one for vice president. Then, they prepare the “certificate of vote” which becomes a part of the nation’s official records. While they are not forced to vote according to the popular vote results in their states, they may be fined, disqualified or replaced if they vote against their states’ results in accordance with some state laws. Later, on January 6th, Congress will count the votes and Vice President Joe Biden will preside over the count. The winner will be based on who has the majority votes—at least 270. After the winner is announced, the Vice President will ask if there are any objections, which allow for lawmakers to challenge either individual electoral votes or entire state results. The House and the Senate then consider the objection separately to decide to support it. If they both decide to support it, the vote will get thrown out. After all objections are resolved, the results are considered final.

The Bias

The only advantage in the Electoral College process is the battleground states count the most. These battleground states lay within the Midwest region, which carry particular demographics that likened to Mr. Trump. Still, the demographics alone do not explain Trump’s victory, as he won by embarrassingly small margins. In Michigan, Trump won by 10,704 votes, and in Wisconsin, Trump won by 22,177 votes. His victory relies upon some of the smallest margins in presidential race history.

So what happened? Luck?

I argue voter suppression. In a recent Millennial & Political blog post, I discuss how this was the first presidential election without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and how 15 states took full advantage of it.

So what happens now?

Since the original purpose of the electoral college is to insure the qualifications of who becomes president, Donald Trump is evidence that our current system does not work. In order to change the process, we should consider a variety of solutions. To begin with, the electors should not be affiliated with a political party to insure that they are able to vote their conscience without undue political pressure. In addition, the constitutionality of state legislation that bars, fines, disqualifies or replaces electors who vote against the state’s popular vote should be challenged, as these laws threaten the intended purpose of the electoral college. Last resort, Congress can end the electoral college process by passing an Amendment to the US Constitution.

It is up to us to hold them accountable, and push these issues along.

“People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote- a very different thing.”- Walter H. Judd


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