The Presidential Electoral College

Chouan

Honors Member
Dear all, or especially, dear Americans,
as some of you will know, I teach the Politics of the USA to 17-18 year old students in the UK (as well as History). I am currently struggling with teaching them how the Electoral College works in different states in a presidential election, as they find it really confusing no matter how I try to explain it. Could any of you offer a concise and succinct explanation that I could use to help my students to understand?
Thanks.
 

SG_67

Connoisseur
The electoral college is basically made up by combining the total number of house members and members of the senate. The senate represents the states and each state has 2 senators, thus 100.

The house represents the people in the states and is apportioned by population. Setting aside district mapping and all of the other political nonsense used to identify a district within a state, that number is currently 435. Including DC which I believe gets 3, the tally is at 538.

There are long philosophical arguments for this system and you may want to urge your students to read the Federalist Papers.

Basically the system is designed to even the playing field and to allow the republic to work as a republic. To allow a simple majority to take the election is akin to direct democracy and would put too much emphasis on the large population centers.

Each state is sovereign. The states are united as a republic but in the electoral system, each state gets a more equitable share in who shall govern the republic.

The electoral college is an attempt to overcome the tyranny of the majority as Madison put it.

That's the succinct way. Obviously there is much debate about it but I always defer to the wisdom of the founders as opposed to some of the nincompoops in high office today.
 

Chouan

Honors Member
The electoral college is basically made up by combining the total number of house members and members of the senate. The senate represents the states and each state has 2 senators, thus 100.

The house represents the people in the states and is apportioned by population. Setting aside district mapping and all of the other political nonsense used to identify a district within a state, that number is currently 435. Including DC which I believe gets 3, the tally is at 538.

There are long philosophical arguments for this system and you may want to urge your students to read the Federalist Papers.

Basically the system is designed to even the playing field and to allow the republic to work as a republic. To allow a simple majority to take the election is akin to direct democracy and would put too much emphasis on the large population centers.

Each state is sovereign. The states are united as a republic but in the electoral system, each state gets a more equitable share in who shall govern the republic.

The electoral college is an attempt to overcome the tyranny of the majority as Madison put it.

That's the succinct way. Obviously there is much debate about it but I always defer to the wisdom of the founders as opposed to some of the nincompoops in high office today.

Thank you for your very prompt answer! May I ask a couple of other questions?
How are the members of the electoral college chosen? Do all of the states select their electoral colleges in the same way? Do the electoral colleges in the states return the state vote? Or a proportionate vote? ie If Maine has 12 electoral college votes, does it give 12 to the winner of that state, or the proportion of the popular vote that each candidate got?
 

tocqueville

Suspended
It is proportional in only two states, Maine and Nebraska.

DC gets 3, which is nice because otherwise we are ignored. Puerto Rico has none, which helps explain why the Fed Gov ignores it.


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Chouan

Honors Member
It is proportional in only two states, Maine and Nebraska.

DC gets 3, which is nice because otherwise we are ignored. Puerto Rico has none, which helps explain why the Fed Gov ignores it.


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Again, thank you for your prompt reply.
 

SG_67

Connoisseur
The electors are selected by the political parties in the states. In many states, they are obligated by law to cast their vote according to the popular will. Whether obligated by law or not, they do.

Upon completion of the vote, the Governor of each state certifies the vote and the candidate with the most votes gets that states number of electors.

This is obviously simplified and there are many cases in law and precedent which have contributed to this development.
 

oldgulph

Starting Member
No state uses "proportional" method

It is proportional in only two states, Maine and Nebraska.

DC gets 3, which is nice because otherwise we are ignored. Puerto Rico has none, which helps explain why the Fed Gov ignores it.


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It is not "proportional" in any state.

Maine (since 1969) and Nebraska (since 1992) have awarded one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, and two electoral votes statewide.

DC, Maine, Nebraska, California, and Texas are among the 80%+ of states that are ignored and politically irrelevant in presidential elections, because the winner is not in doubt in the districts (ME and NE) or states.
 

oldgulph

Starting Member
The number of electoral college votes per state is the combined total number of the US House members (435) and members of the senate (100). DC has 3 electoral votes. The total = 538.

The state-by-state winner-take-all rule is not in the Constitution. It was not debated at the Constitutional Convention, nor mentioned in the Federalist Papers. The winner-take-all rule was used by only three states in 1789 (and all three repealed it by 1800, a strong reminder that winner-take-all is nothing more or less than an ordinary state statute).The winner-take-all rule became widespread after the Founders were long dead (and became universal between 1896 and 1968). Political machines controlling the states didn’t want their state’s minority to have a voice, and didn’t want to reduce their state’s clout relative to other states that had adopted winner-take-all. Replacing state winner-take-all statutes does not require a federal constitutional amendment, because the winner-take-all rule is nowhere in the Constitution.

The system does not ensure a level playing field or "allow the republic to work as a republic."
From 1992- 2012
13 states (with 102 electoral votes) voted Republican every time
19 states (with 242) voted Democratic every time

If this pattern continues, and the National Popular Vote bill does not go into effect,
Democrats only would need a mere 28 electoral votes from other states.
If Republicans lose Florida (29), they would lose.

To allow a plurality of votes by the people to determine the presidential election would not be akin to direct democracy, and would not put too much emphasis on large population centers.

Direct democracy is a form of government in which people vote on all policy initiatives directly.
Popular election of the chief executive does not determine whether agovernment is a republic or democracy.

One-sixth of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities, and they voted 63% Democratic in 2004.

One-sixth lives outside the nation’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas, and rural America voted 60% Republican.

The remaining four-sixths live in the suburbs, which divide almost exactly equally.

The National Popular Vote bill would replace state winner-take-all laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who get the most popular votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), in the enacting states, to a system guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes for, and the Presidency to, the candidate getting the most popular votes in the entire United States.

States control their presidential elections.
[h=1]The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state, ensures that the candidates, after the conventions, in 2012 did not reach out to about 80% of the states and their voters. 10 of the original 13 states are ignored now. 80% of states’ votes were conceded months before by the minority parties in the states, taken for granted by the dominant party in the states, and ignored by all parties in presidential campaigns. Candidates had no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they were safely ahead or hopelessly behind. [/h]In 2012, more than 99% of presidential campaign attention (ad spending and visits) was invested on voters in just the only ten competitive states. There are only expected to be 7 remaining swing states in 2016.

In 2012, 24 of the nation's 27 smallest states received no attention at all from presidential campaigns after the conventions after Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee on April 11. They were ignored despite their supposed numerical advantage in the Electoral College. In fact, the 8.6 million eligible voters in Ohio received more campaign ads and campaign visits from the major party campaigns than the 42 million eligible voters in those 27 smallest states combined.

Issues of importance to non-battleground states are of so little interest to presidential candidates that they don’t even bother to poll them.

Over 87% of both Romney and Obama campaign offices were in just the 12 swing states. The few campaign offices in the 38 remaining states were for fund-raising, volunteer phone calls, and arranging travel to battleground states.

Since World War II, a shift of a few thousand votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 15 presidential elections

With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with a mere 23% of the nation's votes!

Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1:
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding a state's electoral votes.

As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. States can, and have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years.

By state laws, without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes, the National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80%+ of the states that have just been 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

The National Popular Vote bill would take effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

The bill has passed 33 state legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 250 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

With National Popular Vote, the United States would still be a republic, in which citizens continue to elect the President by a majority of Electoral College votes by states, to represent us and conduct the business of government.

The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, or national lines (as with the National Popular Vote).

NationalPopularVote
 

SG_67

Connoisseur
^ We are a republic of sovereign states. In the original conception of the United States, laid out by Hamilton, Madison and Jay in the Federalist Papers, the federal government's primary role was to allow for a common defense and foreign policy as well as establish guidelines for a basis of law that would apply to everyone across the states.

That's why there is nothing in the Constitution regarding marriage, criminal statues and commerce within the state. Issues of taxation as well as the organization of the states government were left to the people of the individual states.

To get rid of the electoral college would concentrate undue influence to the large population centers where machine politics will then have a field day.

You complain of the battleground states? Imagine if LA, NYC, Miami, Chicago and Dallas were allowed to choose the POTUS every 4 years.
 

Liberty Ship

Senior Member
The system was designed to avoid "popular" elections. The President was to be elected by the States, not the people. And it was left up to the States to decide how the votes allocated to the States were devised. The Founding Fathers feared popular elections, democracy, more than anything except royalty because they believed that the end of democracy was always tyranny. Likewise, Senators were supposed to be elected by the representative governments of the States, not directly by the people of the states. The trick was to give the power to the people, but to temper that power and keep it "arm's length" from democracy, or mobocracy, through a hierarchy of representative filters.

I will try to surface the US Government training manual that details all this. Published in the 1920's it was, of course, collected and destroyed by FDR when he took office. it would make interesting reading for your class.
 

oldgulph

Starting Member
Only 16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities

With the National Popular Vote bill, we would still be a republic of sovereign states.

It does not get rid of the Electoral College.
All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.


The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter equally in every presidential election, while preserving the Electoral College and state control of elections.

16% of the U.S. population lives outside the nation's Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Rural America has voted 60% Republican. None of the 10 most rural states matter now.

The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States. 16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities. They voted 63% Democratic in 2004.

Suburbs divide almost exactly equally between Republicans and Democrats.

Big cities do not always control the outcome of elections. The governors and U.S. Senators are not all Democratic in every state with a significant city.

In a nationwide election for President, candidates would campaign everywhere—big cities, medium-sized cities, and rural areas—in proportion to the number of votes, just as they now do in only the handful of battleground states.

A nationwide presidential campaign of polling, organizing, ad spending, and visits, with every voter equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida. In the 4 states that accounted for over two-thirds of all general-election activity in the 2012 presidential election, rural areas, suburbs, exurbs, and cities all received attention—roughly in proportion to their population.

The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states, including polling, organizing, and ad spending) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every voter is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

With National Popular Vote, when every voter is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren't so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.
 

Tiger

Elite Member
Just a few points:

a) The electoral concept in Article II Section One was designed to grant States a preeminent role in selecting the chief executive. In addition, the Framers thought that it would be lunacy to allow the general population to decide such an important matter when they had almost no knowledge of the candidates for that office.

b) Every State had (and still has) the right to choose electors any way it wishes. Most initially decided to allow the State legislature to make the choice; the move to "democratization" eventually allowed the voting population to make the choice (Americans don't vote for presidential candidates; we vote for "electors" who are pledged to particular candidates of political parties). Of course, this system overturns the logic adduced in a) above!

c) Hamilton, Madison, and Jay are not the "authorities" on the U.S. Constitution, nor do they represent its "original conception"; they pushed for ratification of the document in a series of articles that we now call The Federalist Papers because they supported a particular view of general government. For nearly every argument made by that trio, there are corresponding counterpoints by those opposing ratification - the "authorities" known as Anti-Federalists.

d) The electoral process as currently utilized is a flagrant distortion of the Framers' and ratifiers' intent (again, see a) above).

e) The "National Popular Vote" scheme mentioned above destroys all semblance of the Framers' intent, i.e., the Constitution allows states to determine how electors are selected, not compel them to vote in a predetermined manner. Such schemes attempt to pervert the text of the Constitution by inverting the order (and role) of electoral votes.

Hope that helps!
 
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SG_67

Connoisseur
^ I realize the role played by the Federalist Papers in support of the constitution. It was an attempt to distill the arguments and the philosophical underpinnings of the constitution.

Regarding the original intent of the chief executive of the Federal Govt. It would be wise to remember that the POTUS and the executive branch was not supposed to have an intrusive role on the lives of individual Americans.

It was the legislative branch, the House in particular, that was supposed to be closest to the people.
 

Tiger

Elite Member
Yes; in fact, every part of the general (federal) government was to be selected by the States or the officers chosen by the States, except for the House of Representatives, which was directly answerable to the general populace.
 

Chouan

Honors Member
Again, my thanks to those who have contributed to this. If nobody objects I will pass your posts on to my students.
 

Shaver

Suspended
Absolutely fine with me, Chouan - any effort to arrive at truth and clarity is a worthwhile undertaking!
Clarity? This system seems entirely predicted upon obfuscation. Whilst we are on the subject- Federal Reserve, legal or not?
 

Liberty Ship

Senior Member
Chouan, Here is a link to a page featuring the Citizenship Training Manual from 1928. It should be interesting reading for your students. While not expressly about the Electoral College, Lesson 9, Paragraphs 118 - 135, give a good summary of exactly why we don't have direct elections, direct legislation, or even a "direct judiciary" (lynch mob).

https://www.barefootsworld.net/tm_2000-25.html
 

oldgulph

Starting Member
U.S. Supreme Court

. . .

e) The "National Popular Vote" scheme mentioned above destroys all semblance of the Framers' intent, i.e., the Constitution allows states to determine how electors are selected, not compel them to vote in a predetermined manner. Such schemes attempt to pervert the text of the Constitution by inverting the order (and role) of electoral votes.

Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1:
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding a state's electoral votes.

The National Popular Vote bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter equally in every presidential election, while preserving the Electoral College and state control of elections.

The bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the "mob" in the current handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, while the "mobs" of the vast majority of states are ignored.

Analysts already conclude that only the 2016 party winner of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire is not a foregone conclusion. So, if the National Popular Vote bill is not in effect, less than a handful of states will continue to dominate and determine the presidential general election.

9 states determined the 2012 election.
10 of the original 13 states are politically irrelevant in presidential campaigns now. They aren’t polled or visited.
None of the 10 most rural states matter
24 of the 27 lowest population states, that are non-competitive are ignored, in presidential elections.
4 out of 5 Americans were ignored in the 2012 presidential election. After being nominated, Obama visited just eight closely divided battleground states, and Romney visited only 10. These 10 states accounted for 98% of the $940 million spent on campaign advertising.
Candidates do not bother to advertise or organize in 80% of the states.

Over the last few decades, presidential election outcomes within the majority of states have become more and more predictable. Only ten states were considered competitive in the 2012 election.

From 1992- 2012
13 states (with 102 electoral votes) voted Republican every time
19 states (with 242) voted Democratic every time

If this pattern continues, and the National Popular Vote bill does not go into effect,
Democrats only would need a mere 28 electoral votes from other states.
If Republicans lose Florida (29), they would lose.

Population shifts have converted states that were once solidly Republican into closely divided “battleground” states.

There do not appear to be any Democratic states making the transition to voting Republican in presidential races.

Some states have not been been competitive for more than a half-century and most states now have a degree of partisan imbalance that makes them highly unlikely to be in a swing state position.

· 41 States Won by Same Party, 2000-2012
· 32 States Won by Same Party, 1992-2012
· 13 States Won Only by Republican Party, 1980-2012
· 19 States Won Only by Democratic Party, 1992-2012
· 7 Democratic States Not Swing State since 1988
· 16 GOP States Not Swing State since 1988

There have been 22,991 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 17 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector's own political party. 1796 remains the only instance when the elector might have thought, at the time he voted, that his vote might affect the national outcome.
The electors are and will be dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws guaranteeing faithful voting by presidential electors (because the states have plenary power over presidential electors).
 
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