A Primer on the Electoral College


By Mick Spillane


Does the Electoral College have keggers? No. And, probably not as much fun as electing a pope either. In fact, the Electoral College never meets as a unified group.


As you may have noticed, American democracy is intrinsically chaotic. The astonishing thing is that it works. But munificent pandemonium still rules the day.


It is a common misconception that the United States is a pure democracy, but American voters do not directly elect the president of the United States. Rather, as set up in Article II of the Constitution, electors from each individual state nominally cast ballots for the president and vice-president in the Electoral College.


Every state (and the District of Columbia) has a number of Electoral College members equal to the number of representatives and senators in that state. There is a minimum of 3 members, in states such as Alaska and Montana, and a maximum of 54 members in California. Securing a majority of 270 electoral votes (out of a possible 538) ensures that the candidate will go on to the White House. In all seriousness, a candidate can actually become president by winning the electoral contest but losing the popular vote—which is what cost Grover Cleveland the 1888 election, and, as we all recall more recently (Florida that basement of America, chads…huh?) resulted in George W. Bush becoming president in 2000.


The Electoral College was created to keep the vote in the hands of the people and downplay partisan politics. Ironically, modern critics find the winner-take-all approach of the Electoral College unfair because it takes the vote out of the hands of people and may fail to reflect the popular national will by unfairly misrepresenting the importance of individual votes in certain states. The electoral votes are won wholly, county-by-county, and state-by-state, regardless of whether a majority is decided by one vote or one million votes. This process has resulted in extremely close presidential races in the election years of 2000, 2004, and 2008. Those recent elections have proven the importance of the popular vote in the process of electing a president.


Yeah, the Founding Fathers deliberately set it up this way.