ELECTORAL COLLEGE, HOW AMERICA ELECTS THE PRESIDENT


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BY ADEYEMI OSHUNRINADE

In most nations of the world, the leadership comes to power by popular vote. The winner of the national vote takes it all and to be President, the candidate only needs to garner the national vote. Normally, that is the way it should be since it allows the populace to choose their leader based on preference and the majority vote. But not so fast in the U.S. electoral system, the American President comes to power not by popular vote but via the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is the constitutionally approved institution that officially elects the President and Vice President of the United State. Though, the Electoral College has been criticized for being undemocratic, for giving much importance to the swing states over the rest of the nation, it has survived based on its constitutional mandate conferred by the founders. To proponents and supporters of the system, it is a distinguishing feature of federalism which helps protect the rights of smaller and less influential states from encroachment by the bigger and more powerful states in terms of both economic and political influence.

As directed by the constitution, electors are chosen by each state of the United States and by the District of Columbia. There are 538 electors, the constitution specifies the number of elector to come from each state and state legislatures decide how they are chosen. The voters in each state including the District of Columbia cast ballots to choose electors pledged to both the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. The electors are chosen on a winner-takes-it-all basis such that the candidate with the highest votes becomes the elector for the particular state and then assume the duty to choose the President and the Vice President.

To become President, a candidate must have 270 out of 538. After election, electors get together to cast their ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. Finally, Congress counts the vote in a joint session on January 6, to make the result official and declare the leader of the nation. The question is what happens when people go out to vote as we have on November 6, 2012? When a voter goes into a polling booth to cast his ballot for the President, he is not choosing the President directly but the candidate’s electors who have pledged to vote according to their state’s popular vote. However, electors are not bound to vote according to the popular vote but many states including the District of Columbia, have laws or political party pledges restricting electors from voting otherwise.

Though, this rarely happens but when an elector votes against the popular vote in his state, he may earn the title of a “Faithless Elector.” The electors are ordinary people from among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, chosen based on the size of the state congressional delegation. California has the largest with 55, while state like Alaska, District of Columbia and Montana have just three. New York and Florida have 29 electoral votes and Ohio 18 while a highly populated state like Texas has 38.

The fact that the number of electoral votes determines who becomes the President has created controversy in the past for example, in 2000 Presidential election, George Bush lost the popular vote to former Vice President Al Gore by 540,000 votes but ended up becoming President because he had more electoral votes 271 to Al Gore’s 266. The outcome was challenged to the U.S. Supreme Court which awarded Florida’s then 25 electoral votes to George Bush settling the allegations of voter’s irregularities.

So what happens in a tie, Say each candidate gathered 269 electoral votes? Though unusual, in such a scenario, the members of the House of Representatives will choose the President while the Senate picks the Vice President. Right now it is unknown what the outcome of the election would be but nonetheless, a tie based on electoral votes is unlikely. The road to 270 may be long but no doubt a candidate will grab the magic number. The guess is that by morning the nation will have a President in place for the next four years.

Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ Constitutional Law-First Amendment’ and “SAVING LOVE’ a new fiction. Follow on Twitter @san0670.

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