Weekly Column: The Electoral College a Vital Piece of our Constitution
The Electoral College was one of the most innovative concepts created by our Founding Fathers when they were setting up our young republic. Embedded in our Constitution, the Electoral College is the system for electing our president through a slate of ‘electors’ in each state, rather than by direct popular vote. It was carefully crafted to satisfy smaller states’ desire for greater representation while balancing popular sovereignty with our Founders’ fear of the tyranny of the majority. To win the presidency, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes.
The number of electors in each state is determined by the number of U.S. Representatives it has in Congress, plus two additional votes for each senator. Since South Dakota has two senators and one representative, we have three Electoral College votes. A state with a higher population, such as Texas, which has two senators and 36 representatives, would have 38 Electoral College votes. Today, the Electoral College is made up of 538 electors, including three electoral votes granted to the District of Columbia, which means a candidate must receive 270 electoral votes to win.
By guaranteeing each state—no matter the size—at least three electoral votes, minority rights are protected. It puts smaller states like South Dakota on more equal footing with larger states like New York and California, preventing candidates who may only have a regional appeal from running away with the election. This system encourages candidates to travel across the country to meet with Americans from small towns and big cities and from differing backgrounds and ideologies, since it is impossible to win 270 electoral votes if only one region of the country or one segment of the population supports you. If a candidate spent his or her time campaigning only in big cities or states with large populations, they could likely win the popular vote easily. But, winning the popular vote doesn’t win you the presidency.
Each state’s electors are nominated by political parties, usually at a state convention. Then, when we go to the polls in November, we are actually voting for electors based on party rather than the presidential and vice-presidential candidates listed on the ballot. It is not until well after Election Day that electors meet in their states to vote for the candidate their party represents and a candidate is officially declared the winner. Electoral votes are then counted by a joint session of Congress on January 6 of the year after the presidential election to confirm that the president-elect has the 270 votes necessary to win. This year, the Electoral College is expected to meet on December 19, 2016, to formally affirm Donald Trump as our 45th president to be sworn into office on January 20, 2017.
When framing the Electoral College, our Founding Fathers wanted to prevent the tyranny of a majority by protecting minority rights in our presidential electoral system. Public sentiment toward the Electoral College will sway after each election, based on which party wins or loses. At the end of the day, our presidential election system is a brilliant concept, one that will continue to stand the test of time.