Electoral college 101

In many United States elections, the results are decided by whichever candidate wins the popular vote. One of the most notable exceptions to this rule is the presidential election, which is determined by the electoral college. The electoral college dates back to the founding of the Constitution. The founding fathers were afraid of using the popular vote to determine such an important position. In this time, it was much harder for voters to organize or make an educated decision. The founding fathers were specifically worried about information dissemination. Keep in mind, there were no televised debates or widespread advertising for president during this time, so it was possible the average voter would not be able to name the candidates, let alone list their political positions.

How are Votes Determined in the Electoral College?

The electoral college is made up of a number of representatives from each state. Every four years, these representatives cast a vote for their state. Each state was allotted a number of electoral votes. The number of electoral votes is determined by the size of the state. The larger the state, the more votes it is rewarded. In order to win the election, candidate must receive 270 electoral votes. If no candidate reaches 270 votes during the election, the House of Representatives is responsible for picking who is president. This is rare, and as of the 2020 election, it has only happened twice. One instance was in 1800, while the other was 1824.

Winner Takes All

The electoral college is commonly referred to as a winner take all system. This refers to how the electoral votes are determined. While each state has representatives in the electoral college, these representatives vote based on the popular vote within the state. For example, if a state has 30electoral votes and the state votes 49% Democrat and 51% Republican, all 30votes are awarded to the winning party.

The only exceptions are Maine and Nebraska. Both of these states use a split system to determine votes. Under this system, the representatives look at the number of votes among each congressional district and split the votes. The decision of how many votes goes to a candidate is decided by state legislatures.

Choosing Representatives

The formula for choosing how many representatives a state gets is the number of senators, which is always two, plus the number of House representatives in the state. This number may change depending on the population size. The number of electoral votes determines the number of representatives, known as electors.

Electors are determined by state legislators. Each state uses a different process to determine who is nominated. There are few rules determining who can be nominated as an elector. In order to qualify, the elector must not be an active member of Congress, someone who is serving in a high-ranking government position or is part of a trust or profit related to a major government official, and he or she cannot have engaged in any treasonous action.

Criticisms of the Electoral College

In recent years, starting largely after the 2000 election, many critics have voiced opposition towards the electoral college, arguing it is a dated system. 2000 was a turning point for the electoral college, as the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, won the popular vote, but George Bush won the overall election due to receiving more electoral votes. Critics argued the will of the people was being circumvented, since more voters wanted Al Gore as president, but he lost due to the winner takes all nature of the electoral college. These critics surfaced once again after the 2016 election, where Hillary Clinton narrowly won the popular vote, but still lost the overall election due to the electoral college.

State Influence

Another criticism of the electoral college has to do with the number of electoral votes each state gets. These critics believe the larger states end up with too much influence. California and Texas are commonly used as examples, worth 55 and 38 electoral votes respectively. In comparison, most other states have less than 10 electoral votes. Voters in smaller states feel as though their voice is diminished, since candidates are more likely to appeal to voters in the larger states.

This argument is somewhat mitigated by the existence of battleground states. In many elections, the winner is decided by a handful of electoral votes from the smaller states, such as Iowa, Ohio and Michigan. Some critics from the larger states have even voiced their own arguments that battleground states are too influential, with the larger states being ignored despite the size of their population.

This leads to another argument regarding state influence. Critics believe voter turnout is determined by which political party has previously won in the state. For example, California has voted Democrat since1992. There are a number of Republican voters in the state who feel going to the polls is futile because of the past victories, which in turn ensures Democratic voters win in even larger numbers. This creates a vicious cycle, where one party continues to dominate over the other. However, there are examples of states changing colors. California may be a blue state today, but before the 90s, it was considered a reliable red state.