The Electoral College

Fox News reports electors in Arizona are being urged not to cast their votes for Trump in the Electoral College.

For those of you not familiar with the peculiarities of how presidents are actually elected in the US, the idea of the Electoral College is a bit odd.

In most Westminster-based countries, leaders are voted based on popular vote. Granted, people do not usually vote for the Prime Minister directly unless they happen to live in the district they represent. The number of seats in Parliament are determined by popular vote (e.g., by casting a party vote), and the party with a majority or enough votes to form a coalition then votes for who the Prime Minister will be (usually the party leader).

In the United States, the American voter is actually voting for someone else (the elector) to go vote for the President in the Electoral College (FYI, it is not an actual place). This is determined by popular vote, with the electors going to the first-past-the-post winner (i.e., whoever gets a majority of votes; however, Maine and Nebraska do things differently).

Once the electors are determined after the national election their votes are counted by a joint-session of the newly elected Congress in January.

Generally, electors are bound to vote for their party’s candidate, and they almost always do. An elector though is perfectly able to vote or abstain (e.g., Barbara Lett-Simmons in 2000), yet to have enough vote and alter the outcome of an election is highly unlikely (so much so it has never happened in nearly 230 years).

“For those of you not familiar with the peculiarities of US elections, the idea of the Electoral College is a bit odd.”

This has not stopped opponents of the election results (and the Electoral College) from urging electors to change their minds or abolish the system altogether (which would require amending the Constitution – good luck with that Barbara Boxer).

In one sense, the fact people even know who the electors are and are urging them to vote differently shows an admirable awareness of how American democracy works. I think this is a good thing.

However, that is not how the system works or should work.

[Personally, I would advocate determining electors based on a percentage of the popular vote rather than a first-past-the-post system. For example, if a state has 10 electors and a candidate gets 55 per cent of the vote, then they would get 6 electors. I think this would be a far more democratic result. However, it is up to the states to determine how electors are allocated.]

The Electoral College was set up to make the election a more level playing field. If it was only about the popular vote then candidates would never (ever, ever) visit small states; they would only ever campaign in states with large populations and ignore the rest. I cannot help but feel some people would like this to happen. Yet with the Electoral College, all states have some worth allocated to them (the number of electors are determined by population).

This system emerged because during the Constitutional Convention back in the 1780s, small states were worried about the big states having too much power simply because they had more people. In short, this is another one of those many checks-and-balances engrained throughout American institutions.

Granted, it is odd for someone to win the popular vote and lose the election in the Electoral College, which is what happened in this election.

It is also worth mentioning neither Trump nor Clinton received more than 50 per cent of the popular vote due to third-party candidates. Interestingly, this also happened to Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.

“The Electoral College is another one of those many checks-and-balances engrained throughout American institutions.”

I understand the frustrations this can cause but those are the rules of the game (as they stand now). Sure, the rules can change. If you want to amend the Constitution to get rid of the Electoral College then by all means go ahead Barbara Boxer. It will not happen anytime soon, but at least you would be making a better argument than asking electors to ignore the millions of voters they are supposed to represent.

These opponents of the Electoral College want the popular vote alone to determine who wins, yet they do not seem to mind telling electors to ignore the millions of people who did not vote their way.

Democracy is great, so long as you vote my way. I think that is called something else…


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