The Electoral College, an unlovable compromise
The feds get a dose of James Madison.

Electors meeting to formally choose Joe Biden as next president

Presidential electors are meeting across the United States on Monday to formally choose Joe Biden as the nation’s next president.

For a compromise that has lasted more than 200 years, the Electoral College doesn’t get a lot of love.

According to the National Archives, more Constitutional amendments have been proposed to alter or abolish the Electoral College than on any other subject — more than 700 proposals in the nation’s history.

Monday is the day set by law for the meeting of the Electoral College. In reality, electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots. The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.

The electors’ votes have drawn more attention than usual this year because President Donald Trump has refused to concede the election and continued to make baseless allegations of fraud.

Biden is planning to address the nation Monday night, after the electors have voted. Trump, meanwhile, is clinging to his false claims that he won the election, but also undermining Biden’s presidency even before it begins. “No, I worry about the country having an illegitimate president, that’s what I worry about. A president that lost and lost badly,” Trump said in a Fox News interview that was taped Saturday.

Following weeks of Republican legal challenges that were easily dismissed by judges, Trump and Republican allies tried to persuade the Supreme Court last week to set aside 62 electoral votes for Biden in four states, which might have thrown the outcome into doubt.

The justices rejected the effort on Friday.

Biden won 306 electoral votes to 232 votes for Trump. It takes 270 votes to be elected.

In 32 states and the District of Columbia, laws require electors to vote for the popular-vote winner. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld this arrangement in July.

It was James Madison who drew up the system, a compromise between those who wanted the states to select the president and those who wanted direct election by qualified voters. Each state was to select a number of electors equal to its representation in Congress [senators and representatives].

It was left to the states to decide how to pick their electors. At first, some states allowed voters [generally adult males who owned property] to do so, while others entrusted their legislatures. Eventually, all states embraced the popular vote, though some gave the franchise to Black men only after the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and to women with the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Under the Constitution, the president must be elected with a majority of electors. If no one wins a majority, the House of Representatives decides. The national popular vote plays no part; five men have been elected president though their opponent won more votes, most recently Trump in 2016.

There is a move afoot to bypass the Electoral College by convincing states to agree to give their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, regardless of which candidate won those states. Such a compact would only take effect if it was approved by enough states to win a majority of the Electoral College — 270 votes.

Only Maine and Nebraska split their electoral votes — the rest are winner takes all. Electors are not obligated under the Constitution to follow the instructions of the voters, though some states have laws that require it.

The electors meet and vote in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. And there are no graduates of the Electoral College. In this case “college” is not an institution of higher education, but a group of people engaged in a common pursuit. Regardless, the term does not appear in the Constitution.

Electors almost always vote for the state winner anyway because they generally are devoted to their political party. There’s no reason to expect any defections this year. Among prominent electors are Democrat Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota.

The voting is decidedly low tech, by paper ballot. Electors cast one vote each for president and vice president.

The Electoral College was the product of compromise during the drafting of the Constitution between those who favored electing the president by popular vote and those who opposed giving the people the power to choose their leader.

Each state gets a number of electors equal to their total number of seats in Congress: two senators plus however many members the state has in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C., has three votes, under a constitutional amendment that was ratified in 1961. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states award all their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state.

Biden topped Trump by more than 7 million votes this year.

And then there’s one more step: inauguration.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Associated Press

One comment

  • Larry Gillis

    December 14, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    ” … For a compromise that has lasted more than 200 years, the Electoral College doesn’t get a lot of love … ”

    Unlike so many compromises, this particular compromise works like a charm. It accommodates the legitimate interest of the Big States in being big, while helping to ensure — to some extent, anyway — that the Small States don’t get eaten alive. As with most compromises, there are trade-offs, which means that everyone has something to complain about.

    God bless America.

    Larry Gillis, Libertarian (Cape Coral)

Comments are closed.


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