November 7, 2016
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 most votes. Normally, that is the way it should be since it allows the populace to choose their leader based on preference and the majority vote. However, 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 is criticized for being undemocratic, because it gives much importance to the swing states over the rest of the nation, it has survived based on its constitutional mandate conferred by the founders. Because of its complexities, the question most people ask is why the system is so important in choosing the President? And how does it work?
To supporters of the Electoral 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. In other words, the system serves as a shield to protect the smaller states thereby, giving them equal representation in choosing an American President.
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 picked. 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 the election, electors get together to cast their ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. Then, Congress counts the vote in a joint session on January 6, to make the results official and declare the leader of the nation. The question is what happens when people get in the booth to cast their ballots, as we would have on November 8, 2016?
When a voter goes into a polling booth to cast his ballot for 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, if 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 3. 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 the year 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 this is 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 is long but no doubt a candidate will grab the magic number come election day. The guess is that by morning of November 9, the nation will have a President in place for the next four years.
Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations. He is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment,’ ‘Criminal Law-Homicide’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ available on Amazon. Follow on Twitter @san0670.