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Electoral College? Are they the Donkeys or the Elephants?

Good day everyone! Today, November 3, 2020, marks the highly anticipated presidential vote. Although this year has been filled with so many heart-wrenching moments, living in a democracy, gives us the opportunity to participate in the trajectory of our country. In thinking about today, Bevy and Dave wanted to bring a bit of clarity to one of the popular reasons some choose not to vote, the Electoral College. Many people are incensed by the idea of the Electoral College, but it was formed for good reason…at least one good reason.

What is the Electoral College?

In 1787 the Electoral College was created by the founding fathers as a compromise (better known as the Great Compromise of 1787) in an attempt to give those states with smaller populations an equal vote by weighing the individual vote higher in less populated states than those in states with greater populations. The other reason was to create a layer of protection for the office of presidency. What does that mean? Well, America was still a young country then and not all inhabitants were considered educated and capable of choosing a proper president, so, in walks the idea of the Electoral College – a group of elected persons capable of making a proper decision.

Today, the Electoral College is made up of 538 electors.  When you look at the Electoral College map you will notice that some states have a much larger number of electoral votes than others like California with 55 electoral votes while South Dakota only has 3. The electoral votes represent the number of congressional delegates from each state including the District of Columbia. The number of congressional delegates is based on the size of the population of the state. California has more citizens living in the state; therefore, they get more representation in congress which is made up of the House of Representatives (435 members) and Senate (100 members, 2 per state).

This photo by unknown author is licensed under CC by - SA.

Who are the Electors?

So, what about these electors, who are they?  

In general, the political parties in each state nominate a slate of electors in the spring and summer, before the general election in November. The nominees are usually long standing party members. Their names are sent to the secretaries of state’s office. Whichever party wins the popular vote in the state, their slate is elected and will participate in the Electoral College vote held in December. That means if Biden’s ticket wins the popular vote in your state the slate of democratic electors will be elected and if Trump wins, then the slate of republican electors will participate.

Will these electors vote for who they want to be in office?

Possibly. When the Electoral College was enacted into the constitution, there was no language indicating that the electors must vote for the popular candidate. These electors who vote in opposition to the popular vote winner are referred to as “Faithless electors.” 

During the 2016 presidential election, some were shocked by electors Peter B. Chiafolo, Levi Guerra and Esther John from Washington state, who all voted for General Colin Powell, despite being pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton. Clinton had actually won the popular vote in their state. This did not go without punishment.

Currently, 31 states including the District of Columbia require their electors to uphold their pledge and there are 15 states that have formal sanctions for electors who violate their pledge. In Washington state that sanction was a $1,000 fine. The constitutionality of this fine made it all the way to the Supreme Court and on July 6, 2020 in the case of Chiafolo v. Washington, the Supreme Court decided that states may penalize electors who fail to cast their ballots for the presidential ticket that won the state’s popular vote. Still feeling uneasy? Do not dismay, this is a rare occurrence.  According to the National Archives, 99% of electors have cast their vote for the candidate who won the popular vote throughout our nation’s history.

Winner-Take-All System v. The District System

In 48 states including the District of Columbia the “Winner-Take-All System” is used, while the remaining 2 states Maine and Nebraska use the “District System.” Electors from states who use The Winner-Take-All System are expected to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote from their state and in the District System the National Conference of State Legislatures explains that, one electoral vote is awarded to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in each congressional district, and the remaining two electoral votes are awarded to the candidates receiving the most votes statewide.

If you haven’t already, go vote and share your experience with the young future voters in your life!  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech entitled Keep on Moving (1963), said that, “there is power in unity and there is power in numbers.” This is especially true in this case where the president and vice-president are technically voted in by the Electoral College. So, keep on moving all the way to the polls, your vote matters and more importantly our collective votes matter.

Check out more leadership tools for young citizens here.

 

Resources

Keep on Moving Speech – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – NPR.

The Reidout – Joy Reid – MSNBC.

The History of Voting – Scholastic.

8 Surprising Facts about the Electoral College – Christopher Klein.

The Electoral College – National Conference of State Legislatures.

What is the Electoral College? – National Archives.

The Election isn’t over yet… - National Archives.

Why the Electoral College – Mark Schulman.

The Great Compromise of 1787 – Robert Longley.

United States Electoral College Votes by State - Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The Electoral College: How America picks its president – Clark Merrifield.

State Laws Regarding Presidential Electors - National Association of Secretaries of State.

Supreme Court Clarifies Rules for Electoral College: States May Restrict Faithless Electors - Congressional Research Service.


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