The Electoral College is a very confusing voting system. This year, for Dr. James Hedtke’s annual Constitutional Lecture, the chairman and professor of the political science department explained the Electoral College in detail.
The Electoral College is based on an indirect voting system that uses a number of representatives named electors to pick a candidate to become president of the United States. How it works is an elector makes a pledge to vote for a candidate of their choosing. That elector then receives votes from the people. Those votes then go to the presidential candidate that the elector has pledged to vote for.
“This voting style is meant to elect the most qualified candidate, not the most popular,” Hedtke said.
There are 538 electors in the Electoral College; 435 of these electors come from the House of Representatives. One-hundred more come from the Senate. In addition, the District of Columbia is allowed three representatives.
To win the presidency, a candidate must have a majority of the votes. This means that the first candidate to reach 270 electoral votes is the winner of the election in that year. A good example is the Presidential Election of 2004 when President Bush won the majority of electoral votes over Senator John Kerry, 286 votes against 251.
“[The college is] based on population but not souly on population,” Hedtke said. The number of senate electors is set by the constitution and cannot change. The 435 representatives that come from the House are set by Congress. This number can be changed when Congress feels a portion of the population deserves less or more representation. Hedtke said during his lecture that the only reason electors would be added to the 435 is if Puerto Rico or some other territory were to become a state.
In 48 states plus Washington D.C., a winner-take-all format is used in the voting process. If one candidate within a state has the majority of the votes, then that candidate in turn receives all of the electoral votes from that state.
However, in Maine and Nebraska, a tiered voting system is used where a single elector is chosen for each congressional district. This elector gets one vote and if there is a majority of votes for one candidate, the minority votes will still go to the minority voted candidate.
If there is no national majority for either candidate, then there is a “tie breaker” held in the House of Representatives where each representative gets one vote. To win this tie breaker, a candidate must receive a majority of these votes, meaning 26 states must vote for a single candidate. Meanwhile, the Senate picks the vice president. This means that while Barack Obama could be elected in the House, Sarah Palin could be elected in the Senate and there could be a bi-party couple that would then go to the White House.
If there is still a tie by December, the Speaker of the House in Congress would become acting president. This would cause trouble in finding a solution to the tie because the House would suddenly have a lot of power that it would most likely not want to give away. However, the Electoral College has been the means for which the United States have picked presidents since 1789.
Many feel that the Electoral College does not truly represent each United States citizens vote. “I would like to see a direct popular election of the President,” Hedtke said.
Hedtke’s statement may reflect how many in the nation feel. However, the college has elected U.S. presidents since 1789 and every year has proved again and again that the system does work.