The Electoral College

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  • Created on: 08-04-19 09:53

THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

The President is elected through the Electoral College - the final stage of the process.

In the vast majority of elections, the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins in the Electoral College. 

In 2016, however, although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, Donald Trump won in the Electoral College.

2016 ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES

Donald Trump: 304

(popular vote % = 46.1)

Hillary Clinton: 227

(popular vote % = 48.2)

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HOW THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE WORKS

1. Each state is awarded a certain number of Electoral College votes. This number is equal to that state's representation in Congress - the number of Senators (2 for every state) plus the number of Representatives. 

Thus in 2012, California had 55 (2 + 53) while Wyoming had just 3 (2 + 1). 

There are 538 Electoral College votes. 

To win the presidency, a candiadate must win an absolute majority, which is 270. 

2. The popular votes for each candidate are counted in each state. In all but two states, whichever candidate wins the most popular votes receives all the Electoral College votes of that state - the so-called 'winner-take-all' rule. 

This 'rule' is not in the Constitution, but is purely a convention that develpped during the 19th century in most states. The exceptions are Maine and Nebraska. 

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HOW THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE WORKS

3. The Electoral College never meets together. Its members meet in their repsective state capitals on the Monda after the second Wednesday in December. 

Their results are then sent to the vice president of the United States in Washington DC. The vice president formally counts the Electoral College votes and announces the result to a joint session of Congress in early January. 

What if no candidate wins an absolute majority of the Electoral College Votes?

This would happen either if a 269-269 split ocurred between two candidates, or if more than two candidates won Electoral College votes. 

Under these circumstances:

  • The president would be elected by the House of Representatives from three presidential candidates with the most Electoral College Votes. Each state would have one vote. 

The winner would require an absolute majority - 26 of the 50 votes.

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HOW THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE WORKS

  • The vice president would be elected by the Senate from the two vice presidential candidates with the most Electoral College votes. Each Senator would have a vote.

The winner would require an absolute majority - 51 of the 100 votes. 

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STRENGTHS OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

1. It preserves the voice of small-population states. 

2. It tends to promote a 'two-horse' race.

This is important in an election for the president, who is both the chief executive and head of state - a symbol of national unity. 

In such a two-horse race, the winner will tend to receive more than 50% of the popular vote - a definite aid to uniting the nation. 

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WEAKNESSES OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

1. Small states are over-represented. 

By 2016, California had 55 Electoral College votes representing its 39.2 million inhabitants. Wyoming had 3 votes representing its just over half-a-million inhabitants. 

Thus California receives one Electoral College vote for every 713,000 people.

Wyoming receives one Electoral College vote for every 195,000 people. 

2. The Winner-take-all system distorts the result. 

In 1996, Bill Clinton won only 49% of the popular vote, yet he won just over 70% of the Electoral College votes.

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WEAKNESSES OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

3. Unfair to national third parties.

In 1992, an independent candiadte, Ross Perot, won 18.9% of the popular vote. 

In 1996, as the Reform Party candidate, Perot won 8.5% of the popular vote. 

In 2000, Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader won over 3 million votes.

But none of these candidates won a single Electoral College vote. 

4. 'Rogue' Electors.

Many states have laws requiring Electors to cast their ballots for the state-wide popular vote winner, but others do not, leaving open the possibility that so-called rogue or faithless Electors will cast their ballot some other way. 

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WEAKNESSES OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

5. President and vice president of different parties. 

At the beginning of the Republic, when political parties did not truly exist, it did not matter if the president and vice president were of different parties, as a result of the system used in the case of Electoral College deadlock.

In 2000, it was certainly possible that the House of Representatives could have chosen Republican George W. Bush as president and the Senate could have chosen Democrat Joseph Liberman as vice president. 

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ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES OF EC

Advantages

  • Preserves the voice of the small-population states.
  • Usually promotes a two-horse race with hte winner receiving more than 50% of the popular vote. 

Disadvantages

  • Small-population states are over-represented. 
  • Winner-take-all system can distort the result.
  • Possible for the loser of the popular vote to win in the Electoral College (2016).
  • Unfair to national third parties.
  • 'Rogue' electors. 
  • Potential problem if the Electoral College is deadlocked. 
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