Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Electoral College 101
Our United States Supreme Court has twice ruled during presidential election challenges, in the cases of Moore v. Ogilvie (1969) and Bush v. Gore (2000), that: “the idea that one group can be granted greater voting strength than another is hostile to the one man, one vote basis of our representative government.”
How does the Electoral College method for choosing our president fit into that “one man, one vote” concept?
When our founders wrote the United States Constitution, our nation had just finished wrestling our independence from Britain, which was then the most powerful nation on the face of the earth.
The men who wrote our Constitution knew that the greatest asset in gaining our freedom had been our unity, and they could see that our greatest future threat would be our own internal conflict. Accordingly, everything they wrote in the Constitution was specifically put there to keep us united as a nation.
Prior to America’s Independence, no nation in the world had ever chosen its leadership with a fully representative democracy. In Scottish clans or African tribes, Chinese dynasties or European kingdoms, new leaders had always been imposed upon the people by royal succession or military conquest.
Having Constitutional direction for choosing our congressmen and senators was important, of course, but we had been using the representative method and democratic process to elect our local leaders from our earliest colonial beginnings.
Creating, however, a peaceful process for the people to democratically select a representative leader to preside over the nation as a whole was entirely unique in global history.
Our founders knew that constant checks and balances would be needed to keep the future accretions of power and acids of personal prejudices from undermining the structural and moral integrity of our nation.
Their foresight and wisdom showed them that without checks and balances these United States would cease to exist. The Electoral College is perhaps the epitome of our check and balance process.
The writers of the Constitution were keenly aware that they were creating a political revolution every four years, but with the intent that the revolutionary tool for regular and sequential changes of power would be ballots, not bullets.
For the American experiment to work and remain true to its core values, the founders saw that each state and each voter must know they all have a full and proportionate say in the selection of the president as a national leader.
With all that in mind, the founders created a process in the Constitution at Section 1 of Article 2 that says: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress…” This group of Electors has become known as the Electoral College.
Even though over 125 million individuals voted in the November 4, 2008 presidential election, they were actually selecting the 538 electoral votes which were then cast on December 15, 2008 by the Electoral College.
Because every state has two senators, each has two Electors regardless of the state’s size, but the Electoral College also gives proportionate weight according to population because it gives one Elector for each U.S Representative. Thus, the smallest population state, Wyoming, has three Electoral College votes, while California has 55 votes because it has two senators and 53 representatives.
In California, Barrack Obama got 7,342,729 individual votes which comprised almost all of his entire 8,481,030 national margin of victory over John McCain. For that, Obama got all of California’s 55 Electoral votes.
In Wyoming, McCain’s margin of 65% of the vote equaled only 160,639 votes but it still got him three Electoral votes.
The Electoral College is thus much more a quantification of the expression of our national consensus than it is a mere calculation to determine the majority of our individual votes.
That consensus has helped keep us the United States even after the grueling battles of selecting forty-four different presidents.