Every four years when we vote for our choice for President of the United States we put the Electoral College in action. This isn’t a college campus located near an Ivy League school, it is the process where a presidential candidate needs that magic number of 270 to win a four-year residency in the White House.
So what the heck is the Electoral College and why is it so important in electing a president?
Unlike most elections, the candidate with the most votes does not technically win an election. Not nationally anyway. Basically it is supposed to be the candidate with the most votes in each state. The Electoral College was created so that each state would have the appropriate representation in a Presidential election.
So how does this work?
The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. Each state’s number equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation. One electoral vote for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for your Senators.
When you cast your vote, you are counted for the elector that has been designated in your district.
If I were to vote for Hillary Clinton, I’m actually voting for Andrea Conte. If I were to vote for Donald Trump, I’m actually casting an electorate vote for Pat Allen.
Tennessee is one of 48 states with “winner takes all” rules, based on which presidential candidate gets the most votes. Winners in these states get all the electoral votes regardless of whether it’s a majority or a plurality. Maine and Nebraska are the only states that do not have “winner takes all” rules.
Most states have laws requiring electors to vote with the results. Oddly enough 21 states do not have such a law which means there can be a “faithless elector” who doen’t vote the way their state has voted. Fortunately, this has never affected the outcome of an election. States have the power to punish faithless electors with fines and possible jail time, but once certified votes are sent to Washington, it’s up to Congress to accept the votes.
If not candidate gets the 270 votes needed, the House of Representatives elects from the three candidates who received the most Electoral votes. That would be quite interesting wouldn’t it?
The electors of each state convene after the election, under current federal law, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. They must meet in person at their state’s capitol. This year, they will meet on December 19, 2016. Each state sends its official vote count certificates to the Vice President, state officials, the federal court that has jurisdiction over the state capitol area and the federal archivists. The vote certificates must be received in Washington by December 28. This is why a president-elect doesn’t immediately take office after an election.
Even when the media “projects” a state for a candidate, it isn’t officially a done deal until this process has been completed. News organization can many times project a winner, even with no results, because elections tend to have predictable voting patterns; however, most major media organizations wait until polls are closed before calling a winner.
The 2000 Presidential Election was the most recent election where the popular vote winner was not elected. George W. Bush won the Electoral College 271-266, with one Gore Elector abstaining. Democratic candidate Al Gore held a 543,895 lead in the nationwide popular vote but the problems in Florida resulted in Bush gaining the state’s electoral votes needed to win.
Every four years there is a continuing debate whether or not the Electoral College is necessary but it continues to be used and forgotten until the next Presidential election.