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Petition Tag - electors
Major elections are coming up. Electors need to focus on candidates and issues.
The electoral college is one of the many compromises written into the t United States Constitution in 1787. The founding fathers devised the electoral college to elect the president but they did not anticipate the emergence of national political parties or a communications network able to bring presidential candidates before the entire electorate.
Providing that the president be chosen indirectly through the “electoral college” rather than directly by the voters in November was one of the founders’ hedges against “popular passion.” In the beginning, the electors had very real powers to work their will. Now, their sole function is to confirm a decision made by the electorate six weeks earlier.
Under the Constitution, each state is authorized to choose electors for president and vice president, the number always being the same as the combined number of U.S. senators and representatives allotted to that state. With 100 senators and 435 representatives in the United States, plus three electors for the District of Columbia provided by the Twenty-third Amendment, the total electoral college vote is 538.
Makeup and operation of the electoral college itself are tightly defined by the Constitution, but the method of choosing electors is left to the states. In the beginning many states did not provide for popular election of the presidential electors. Today, however, electors are chosen by direct popular vote in every state.
When voters vote for president, they are actually voting for the electors pledged to their presidential candidate. (Electors are named by state party organizations. Serving as an elector is considered an honor, a reward for faithful service.)
With the political parties in control of presidential politics, the function of the electoral college has changed drastically. Rather than having individuals seek to become electors and then vote for whomever they please for president, the parties have turned the process upside down by arranging slates of electors, all pledged to support the candidate nominated by the party.
In the earliest days of the electoral college, quite the opposite was true. Electors cast their votes for individual candidates rather than for party slates, with the majority winner being elected president and the runner-up, vice president. This made for some bizarre situations, as in 1796 when the Federalist John Adams, with 71 votes, became president and the Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson, with 68, vice president- roughly equivalent in modern times to an election in which Bush and Dukakis would end up as president and vice president.
In 1800 Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, each won an identical number of electoral votes, forcing the election into the House of Representatives, which resolved it in Jefferson’s favor. It was to avoid any similar occurrence that the Twelfth Amendment was passed in 1804. This amendment required the electors to cast two separate ballots, one for president and the other for vice president. This is the only constitutional change that has been made in the electoral college system, other than to add three electoral votes for the District of Columbia in 1961.
Presidential and vice presidential candidates of a party run as a team. In most of the states, it is the names of the candidates rather than the names of the electors that appear on the ballot; in the other states, both candidates and electors are identified. The victor in each state is determined by counting the votes for each slate of electors; the slate receiving the most votes (the plurality, not necessarily the majority of the votes cast) is declared the winner.
To be elected to the presidency a candidate must receive an absolute majority (270) of the electoral votes cast. If no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives picks the winner from the top three, with each state delegation in the House casting only one vote, regardless of its size. Only two U.S. elections have been decided this way (1800 and 1824).
The vice president is elected at the same time by the same indirect winner-take-all method that chooses the president, but the electors vote separately for the two offices. If no vice presidential candidate receives a majority, the Senate picks the winner from the top two, each senator voting as an individual. The Senate has not made the choice since 1836.
Another problem cited by critics is the possibility of “faithless electors” who defect from the candidate to whom they are pledged. Most recently, in 1976, a Republican elector in the state of Washington cast his vote for Ronald Reagan instead of Gerald Ford, the Republican presidential candidate. Earlier, in 1972, a Republican elector in Virginia deserted Nixon to vote for the Libertarian party candidate. And in 1968, Nixon lost another Virginia elector, who bolted to George Wallace.
The main danger of faithless electors is that the candidate who wins the popular vote could wind up one or two votes short of a majority in the electoral college and could lose the election on a technicality. This prospect becomes more probable when there are third-party or independent candidates who could negotiate with electors before they vote.
Those who argue in favor of retaining the present system state that there is too much uncertainty over whether any other method would be an improvement. They point out that many of the complaints about the electoral college apply just as well to the Senate and, to some extent, to the House. They fear that reform could lead to the dismantling of the federal system.