Eight years ago I wrote an article attempting to explain the form and function of the Electoral College. During every presidential election the question is raised as to why we still need the Electoral College, followed by a call for its removal. Here’s where it’s important to know U.S. History. The reason for the Electoral College when it was first instituted was to make as certain as humanly possible that every vote counted.
“The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The founding fathers established it in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for President and Vice President, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.” <http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html>
First, let’s ask the most important question. Is it the popular vote, or the Electoral College vote that elects the president? Answer: Both. Each state has an Electoral vote for each senator (every state has two senators). Then there’s an Electoral vote for every U.S. Representative (based upon state population census –There are currently 435 Representatives). Each major political party at its convention selects electors to match the number of senators and representatives. Whichever party garners the simple majority of the popular vote wins all of the Electoral votes for that state. (There are two exceptions: Maine and Nebraska). This is why, mathematically, a candidate could conceivably win the Electoral College vote, and lose the popular vote. Largely populated states, such as California and New York, could easily swing the number of popular votes in one candidate’s favor so that when you combine all the popular votes throughout the nation, the winner of the popular vote could lose the election – case in point – George W. Bush in 2000. In truth, the candidate for the Democrat Party, then Vice-President Al Gore, won the popular vote, and lost the election. The Republican candidate, then Governor George W. Bush, won the Electoral vote, and thus he won the election.
The Founding Fathers of this great nation understood the problems associated with a straight popular vote. The first danger is like what we experienced in high school class elections – popularity. The most popular kids were elected to be president of the class; class secretary, etc. A truly charismatic personality could come along and sway the vote, winning overwhelmingly through popularity. This is even more telling today with the use of television. If a candidate is not photogenic, it will be an uphill battle. The first televised presidential debates were the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960. Nixon, on black and white TV, appeared tired, and unshaven, giving him a somewhat sinister look. Kennedy, on the other hand, looked youthful, and energetic. It made a difference in the minds of Americans.
The second danger is centered on sheer numbers. The most populated areas of the country could easily determine who would be elected if it were left up to a popular vote. Though not a perfect system, the Electoral College does manage to even the playing field so that less populated states (Wyoming, for example, which is the least populated state) would still have their voice heard. This is why you see candidates traveling to these states that only have 3 or 4 electoral votes. In the overall scheme, the goal of the presidential candidates is to reach the magic electoral vote count of 270. This wins the election. As of this writing, the incumbent, President Barack Obama, has a fairly solid 201 electoral votes, and the challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, has 191 electoral votes. This leaves 146 electoral votes remaining to be determined. Eleven states are in the classification known as “Swing States,” meaning the polling among the voters in that state is so close that the state could go either way – Republican or Democrat. Those eleven states are: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.
For a fair election to take place, the Founding Fathers showed the good sense to build in safeguards so that popularity would not be the sole determining factor. The Electoral College must be maintained if Americans are going to be properly represented.
So, make sure you vote, neighbor. The system works!