Citizens of America do not directly elect their president and vice president. A surprising outcome of this system, is a possibility of the winner of public voting not getting elected as the president! This has happened in the past (most recently in 2000), and can also happen in the future, because the final say in the election lies with the members of the college, who vote for the president and the vice president after public voting results are out. Most people struggle to figure out how the system works, which is explained further in this article.
Why and How was the Electoral College Formed?
The people who framed the US Constitution, on one hand wanted to give people the power to choose their president, and on the other hand, also wanted the National Congress to have a say in the elections. During those times, there were no nationwide political parties, but only regional parties. The framers thus feared that there could be a possibility of regionally popular candidates pooling their votes together and electing the president, thus making the public voting useless. If Congress was given the right to vote, it would have to evaluate each candidate individually, and elect the candidate who it felt would serve the people best. There were chances that Congress could get biased towards certain candidates and elect them as president, if given the power. So, to strike a balance between the two choices, they came up with this system. In this system, people vote for their electoral candidates first, who then go on to represent the state in the electoral college, and vote for the president and the vice president.
The Electoral College's Function
A state's population, along with the number of US senators and representatives from it in the US legislature, determine the number of electors from that particular state. Therefore, the number of electors differ in every state. There are in all 538 electors in the college; 535 of which are elected from all the states, and 3 more representatives form Washington DC, which were added as per the 23rd Amendment.
The US presidential elections are held on the first Tuesday of November, every 4 years. Eligible citizens cast their votes on this day, and the results are summed up within the next few days. On the Monday which comes after the second Wednesday in December, all the 538 members of the college assemble in their respective state capitals to cast their votes.
The electoral vote cast by the members is then sealed and directed to the US Senate president. The president of the Senate, on the 6th of January, opens up the sealed votes and reads them out in front of both houses of Congress. The candidate with the most electoral votes is then declared president, and sworn into authority on the 20th of January. It should be noted that, for a candidate to win the presidential elections, he must gain a minimum of 270 electoral votes.
Mostly, electors vote for the same candidate chosen by the people's vote. A few states have made it mandatory for their electors to vote for the candidate with maximum 'popular vote', by enforcing certain laws. Also, some electors adhere to a particular political party and vote only for their representatives. However, there have been instances wherein the electors have voted for candidates who haven't won majority public votes.
Presidents Winning After Losing Popular Vote
There have been only 4 such cases, wherein the president voted by the electors has not won the popular vote:
|Year||President By Popular Vote||Elected President|
|1824||Andrew Jackson||John Quincy Adams|
|1876||Samuel J. Tilden||Rutherford B. Hayes|
|1888||Grover Cleveland||Benjamin Harrison|
|2000||Al Gore||George W. Bush|
On assessing the pros and cons of the electoral college, it can be observed that this system helps in protecting the interests of the smaller communities and states. It also symbolizes 'federalism', emphasizing on the fact that the US is not a democracy, but a federal republic. However, some people do believe that abolishing the electoral college would give citizens an equal right in voting, regardless of the state they belong to. It can be said that the system has done fairly well, considering the fact that only 4 times in its long history has the popular vote been overruled.