The Electoral College. The determining factor in presidential elections. Many people do not understand it. Some people even think it should be abolished, especially in Presidential Elections where one candidate wins the popular vote but the other candidate wins the Electoral vote (as was the case for this year).
Basically, the Electoral College is a group of representatives from every state who formally elect the President, in which the number of electors in each state is equal to the total number of that state’s senators and representatives. If the majority of people in a given state vote for a certain presidential candidate, then the electors for that state will cast their ballots for that candidate. Hence, in order to win a presidential election, a candidate must try to win as many states as possible in order to win a majority of the Electoral College.
How are these electors chosen? In the past, they were chosen in a variety of ways, whether it be by popular election on a general ticket all across their respective states, by popular election in districts within their states, or elected by their state legislatures. After 1860, every state decided to choose their electors via the popular vote.
So why did the Founding Fathers create the Electoral College? It was the result of a compromise during the Constitutional Convention. There were those who favored the direct election of the president, i.e. the popular vote. But the Founding Fathers worried that a direct election of the president would be too democratic (note: America is a republic, not a democracy). So the Electoral College was established. In addition, it was determined that in the presidential elections, the electors in each state would vote for two candidates, in which the candidate with the majority of electoral votes would become president, while his opponent would be vice-president. This clause was done away with via the Twelfth Amendment. Meanwhile, it was determined that should no candidate receive a majority of electoral votes, then the House of Representatives would decide who would become president. Such an event took place in the 1824 presidential election, as mentioned in one of my previous articles.
This year’s presidential election was just the fourth time in the history of the United States that a presidential candidate won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote. It happened in 1876, in 1888, and of course in 2000 (which, contrary to what some people say, the Electoral College worked the way the Founding Fathers intended — thus, the system worked).
Thus, the Electoral College is another way in which America is a republic, and not a democracy. But don’t let the existence of the Electoral College lead you to believe that your vote does not count. Your vote has an impact on the Electoral College, and thus the presidency.