Electoral College Holds The Power

This map illustrates the number of electoral votes given to each state.

The nation will cast their votes for the 2016 Presidential Election on November 8. Many do not realize, however, that the selection for the next President and Vice President is not finalized until months after the General Election. The President is not selected from the popular vote, which is finalized on Election Day. Rather, the new President is officially selected from the vote of the Electoral College. These ballots will be counted by Congress on January 6th.

The selection of the President of the United States is set up through a process of indirect democracy called the Electoral College. When a citizen casts a ballot, their vote goes to the representatives of the Electoral College in their state instead of going directly to their selected candidate.

Each state gets the same number of electors as they do members of Congress. Missouri, for example, has eight representatives in the House and two in the senate. This gives Missouri ten representatives in the Electoral College. New York has 27 representatives in the House and its two senators, giving the state a total of 29 electoral votes.

In most states, there is a winner-take-all system. This means that the state awards all of its electoral votes to the candidate who receives the popular vote. If Hillary Clinton were to earn 47 percent of the popular vote in Missouri, Donald trump 39 percent with the other 7 percent going to third-party candidates, then Hillary Clinton would be awarded all ten of Missouri’s electoral votes.

This winner-take-all system is used by all but two states. Maine and Nebraska both have a system which awards electoral votes through proportional representation in electoral districts. In this system, the winner of each district is awarded that electoral vote while the statewide winner receives the two remaining votes.

In order for a Presidential Candidate to win an election they must receive at least 270 out of 538 electoral votes. The Electoral College has only failed to produce a majority candidate twice, in the 1800 and 1824 elections.

If neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump receive 270 electoral votes, then the choice will be given to Congress. In the case of no candidate getting a majority vote, the decision of Vice President will be given to the Senate who must choose from the top two Vice Presidential candidates. The decision of the President will be handed to the House of Representatives to choose from the top three Presidential candidates. In this situation, each state would have one vote regardless of population. Whichever Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates receive the majority vote would then be given the official election.

Dr. Max J. Skidmore, a Curators’ Distinguished Professor and Thomas Jefferson Fellow in the Political Science Department at UMKC, thinks the chances of the upcoming election ending in Congress are very slim.

“The chances of it happening are virtually non-existent,” said Skidmore. “If you have someone running a really strong third-party race, it could happen but Gary Johnson is only running at 6% and Jill Stein is nowhere near that. It’s conceivable if there was an absolute split between Hillary and Trump, that 6% could make a difference, but very unlikely.”

If by some chance electoral votes were split directly down the middle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Gary Johnson or Jill Stein would have to carry one state or receive one electoral vote from Maine or Nebraska to even be considered in the House.

This chart highlights the correlation between general election results and Electoral College votes.

This chart highlights the correlation between general election results and Electoral College votes.

“If it were to happen, the choice, unless political patterns have changed, would be always be Republican because there are a large number of states with very little population who tend to be Republican while the majority of the country’s population resides in ten states,” said Skidmore. “If it were to go the House, it’s almost assured Donald Trump would win.”

With the likelihood of the Electoral College failing to produce a majority for one candidate being so slim, it is almost assured that the Electoral College will choose either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to be the next President.

With the way the Electoral College is set up, it is mathematically possible for one candidate to receive the popular vote but lose the election to the Electoral College. For this reason, many Americans hold a disdain for the Electoral College.

“The founders didn’t have any trust in democracy, they didn’t like political parties and held the idea that all office holders should work for the public good and not for a particular interest group. At the Constitutional Convention, there was little to no sentiment for a direct popular election so they improvised with the creation of the Electoral College,” said Skidmore. “After the 1824 election, it was argued — and has been since, the popular vote should decide the presidency, but changing it would require a constitutional amendment.”

After the November 8th election, it can be predicted how many electoral votes each candidate will receive. This predictions clearly points to who will be the next President of the United States. Many states have enacted formally binding pledges that assure their electoral voters cast their ballot for a particular candidate. Very occasionally, an elector will break their pledge and vote for a different candidate. This gives some possibility for the numbers to change slightly after the General Election, but is very unlikely to affect the predicted outcome.

The Electoral College will formally cast their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December and their votes will be officially counted by a joint session of Congress on January 6th. The elected President and Vice President will be sworn in on January 20th, 2017.


1 Comment

  1. oldgulph

    November 1, 2016 at 5:45 PM

    A survey of Missouri voters showed 75% overall support for the idea that the President should be the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states.

    The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
    No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes.
    No more handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill was approved this year by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
    The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.


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