Today's Post:

The role of the Electoral College

Donald Trump won the most electoral votes.
Donald Trump won the most electoral votes.

The election is over, right? Not so fast. The Electoral College will meet in December, and it has the last word.

     If the election was simply a matter of counting votes, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, would have won, with 59,814,018 votes. Donald J. Trump, the Republican, had 59,611,678 votes as of Nov. 9. Why is he the winner? The answer is that he won enough states to guarantee an Electoral College victory. Out of the 538 possible electoral votes, 270 are required; Trump received 276. Clinton got 228. The remainder had not been called as of this report.
     So what is the Electoral College and how does it work? Here are some questions and answers:

Why not just elect a president using the popular vote? During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the framers "feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their state, people would naturally vote for a 'favorite son' from their own state or region. At worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous states with little regard for the smaller ones," explained William C. Kimberling in a 1992 article, The Electoral College on the Federal Election Commission's website.
    The textbook, Government By the People by James MacGregor Burns, J.W. Peltason and Thomas E. Cronin (Prentice-Hall Inc.; 1984), explains, “The framers of the Constitution devised the Electoral College system because they wanted the president chosen by electors exercising independent judgment. Subsequent political changes have transformed the electors into straight party representatives who simply register the voters’ decision.”

How does it work? The Constitution spells out that this is how presidents are elected: “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…” 

What are the requirements for becoming an elector? The Constitution is specific about who can’t take the job:No senator or representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall be appointed an elector.”
    The 14th Amendment, approved shortly after the Civil War, takes another step. A person cannot serve as an elector if he or she engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same [the U.S.], or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” 

How are electors chosen? Political parties nominate potential electors at party conventions, or the party’s central committee chooses electors by vote.
    When citizens vote, they vote for one candidate or another. But “the voter technically does not vote directly for a candidate but chooses between slates of presidential electors,” explains Government By the People.

When do the electors vote? Officially, the electors meet in their respective state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. This year, that will happen on Dec. 19, the week before Hanukkah and Christmas.

Can electors vote any way they want, or must they honor the popular vote?  "There is no constitutional provision or federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states," explains an article on the U.S. National Archives website. In half of the states, however, electors are bound either by state law or pledge to vote for a specific candidate. Here is a list from the National Archives of states where electors are bound:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan 
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington state
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming    

Number of electoral votes in each state according to the National Archives:

StateNumber of Electoral Votes
Alabama 9
Alaska 3
Arizona 11
Arkansas 6
California 55
Colorado 9
Connecticut 7
Delaware 3
District of Columbia 3
Florida 29
Georgia 16
Hawaii 4
Idaho 4
Illinois 20
Indiana 11
Iowa 6
Kansas 6
Kentucky 8
Louisiana 8
Maine 4
Maryland 10
Massachusetts 11
Michigan 16
Minnesota 10
Mississippi 6
Missouri 10
Montana 3
Nebraska 5
Nevada 6
New Hampshire 4
New Jersey 14
New Mexico 5
New York 29
North Carolina 15
North Dakota 3
Ohio 18
Oklahoma 7
Oregon 7
Pennsylvania 20
Rhode Island 4
South Carolina 9
South Dakota 3
Tennessee 11
Texas 38
Utah 6
Vermont 3
Virginia 13
Washington 12
West Virginia 5
Wisconsin 10
Wyoming 3


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