Electoral College Governing Rules Explained

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The day after Donald Trump won the election to become the President of the United States, and an outcry was heard across the country that the Electoral College should no longer exist. On Nov. 9, 2016, protests erupted, and demand for recounts began.

Trump won the Electoral College votes by a slight margin, 290 of 538; the minimum needed to win is 270. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.83 million, according to US Weekly on Dec. 11.

What Is the Electoral College?

The authors of the documents founding the country included the process for electing the president. The “Federalist,” also known as the “Federalist Papers,” is a series of 85 essays published in New York newspapers between Oct. 1787 and May 1788. Although the authors were anonymous and the pen name Publius was used, the actual writers were James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton.

The purpose of the “Federalist Papers” was to notify the people of the political process set aside in the United States Constitution. Essays 68 and 69, written by Hamilton, cover the manner set up for electing the United States president and the character required to hold the position.

538 people make up the Electoral College; they are appointees representing each state and are referred to as electors. The allotment coincides with the number of Congressional delegates for each state; one for each representative and two for each senator, plus three for the District of Columbia.

What is the Purpose of the Electoral College

When Hamilton wrote the essays, he compared the system of elections in the United States to that of England’s hierarchy system.

America’s Founding Fathers set up the Electoral College to ensure the next president would meet the established qualifications. Their concern was that voters would not fully comprehend what is required for the person’s position with the highest executive office.

An excerpt from “Federalist No. 68” explains why electors meet state by state:

As the electors, chosen in each state, are to assemble and vote in the state in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation would expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

The Electoral College is designed to bypass the hype and rhetoric the public is exposed to during the campaigning season. It is supposed to be a safety net and meet the system of checks and balances the Constitution demands.

Kenneth C. Davis, the author of “Don’t Know Much About History,” offers a further example of why the Electoral College should exist.

In 1988, only 91,602,291 people voted, which was only 50.16 percent of those eligible. George Bush won 53 percent of the vote or 27 percent of the eligible population. This means that slightly over one-fourth of the adults (18+) elected the president.

He further points out that the “anemic presidential-election turnout” has increasingly caused concern. The lower numbers of voters may be due to the numbing that occurs during the campaigning. Americans seem to tune out the politicians’ rhetoric and hateful words to the point of not caring enough to vote.

Due to the lack of understanding why the Electoral College exists, most eligible voters believe that their voice is not heard, so they do not vote. Davis writes:

No aspect of the American system is less understood and more bewildering than the Electoral College. Grown men turn weak and stammer when asked who makes up the Electoral College microsoft project alternative.

Considering that the orchestrators of the Constitution decreed there must be a secondary system in place to assure the President of the United States is fit to serve and the lack of voter participation, it appears the Electoral College is an essential part of the system.

Electoral College Deliberates State-by-State

On Dec. 19, electors meet in their respective state capitols and Washington D.C. They will each place two votes; one for president and one for vice president. Once the vote is completed, the electors create a certified vote document, which is then sent to the Congress and the National Archive.

For the most part, the Electoral College has been a formality, but this year several things were surrounding the election process.

Once the candidates for each party were selected, there was a hack on the Democratic party’s website. Then, after Trump won the general election, evidence came to light that the Russian government influenced the election’s outcome, as verified by the FBI, CIA, and National Intelligence agencies.

News of this tampering creates a unique situation for the Electoral College. Since President-elect Trump benefitted from Russia’s interference, it is possible the electors may decide to vote against the president-elect. The main reason this could happen is, as Hamilton explained in “Federalist No. 69,” the president may not be accused of treason or bribery without being impeached, prosecuted, and punished.

Trump’s admitted relationship with Vladimir Putin, his business holdings in Russia, and the subsequent finding of Russian interference in his appointment outcome all bring into question whether or not he is legally fit to become the president.

Therefore, this session for the Electoral College is far from typical and not simply a formality. Some electors are bound by law to vote as the overall state voted. This year, they might choose not to follow that law. It will be easier for those not legally held to those regulations, perhaps.

Electors who make the decision not to vote for the person that the state pledged are called faithless. These representatives might affect the overall Electoral College outcome.

The final stage of the process takes place on Jan. 6, 2017. Members of the Senate and the House meet to tally the votes. Vice President Joseph Biden is expected to oversee the count.

Once done, Biden will ask if there are any challenges. If there is, the dissenter(s) must provide a written explanation, and then the Congressional members will meet once more.

If there is no consensus in the vote’s outcome on Dec. 19, then it is up to the House of Representatives to vote for one of the top three candidates for the presidency, and the Senate chooses the vice president.

After all the votes are counted and the challenges are settled, the final step will be the new president’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.

By Cathy Milne


Library of Congress: E-Version of The Federalist Papers
Library of Congress: H.R.3660 – Ethics Reform Act of 1989-101st Congress (1989-1990)
NBC News: Coming Soon: The ‘Real’ Presidential Election
US WEEKLY: Hillary Clinton Won the Popular Vote Over Donald Trump, but by How Much?
New York Times: Congress May Hold Key to Handling Trump’s Conflicts of Interest
New York Times: The Electoral College Meets Monday. Here’s What to Expect.
AVON BOOKS: ‘Don’t Know Much About History;’ by Kenneth C. Davis; June 1991
Office of the Historian: Electoral College Fast Facts

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