The Electoral College

Yesterday on Tweetfleet I was running a 140 character at a time primer on the US election system for several friends from around the world. Our system can be a tad confusing every four years to those not familiar with it. Heck, it can be confusing to Americans as well.
This young man is obviously very confused about it.

There are a bunch of good video primers available. Here is one from CNN that is very good.

As a life-long student of history and a proud American citizen who cares about his country, let me try to TL;DR the entire thing for you.

The "United States of America" is not just a name, it also happens to be how our country is built. It isn't one large country, but a collection of States that have agreed to a Federal system that can govern and provide for the common defense and welfare of the country. Before the Civil War this system tended to put the power into the hands of the States themselves and the Federal government was much, much weaker than it is now. After the Civil War the Federal government became more powerful and has grown into the behemoth it is today. We can argue the wisdom of all that, but it is how it is.

Ok so the founding Fathers in all their compromising wisdom decided on a government system intended to be as balanced as humanly possible. Which is why we have three branches of government, this system of checks and balances is pretty darn brilliant. However, from time to time in our history one branch or another can sometimes become more powerful than intended. Right now, after 16 years of Bush and Obama, the Executive branch has accumulated unprecedented powers. This is one of the things that worry some people in regards to Trump's election.

But back to the Electoral College. The Legislative Branch of government has two sides, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has exactly 100 members, two from each State. In this way every single State in the US gets the exact same representation. No matter how small or how big, you only get two Senators. The House of Representatives (or Congress) membership is based on population and there are about 430 seats in Congress up for grabs. Bigger States get more seats and smaller States get less seats. Add the number of Senators and the number of Representatives together and you have the Electoral College number for that State! For example, the State I live in Pennsylvania has 20 Electoral College votes, which means we have 2 Senators and 18 members of Congress.

Normally this system works just fine. But sometimes it can get a bit wonky. It is a human system after all. A few times in our history, like this week, a candidate can actually get more popular votes and still lose the election. This is the system working as intended. The reason for this is to avoid the popular vote becoming the way we determine a victor. If we did that, as the young man in the video demands, chaos would ensue. In that system only the votes in large coastal states would matter, effectively you'd have New York and California determining the winner in each election. And also getting the bulk of Federal aid and support afterwards. The Electoral system is not perfect, but it does ensure that even the smallest of States gets a voice.

And please remember that this system is ONLY for Presidential elections. Popular vote matters in ALL other elections. Local, County, State and Federal elections are all based on popular vote, only the President is elected on the Electoral system. This is an important fact to keep in mind. A citizen's representation is more than just the President. The President has extremely limited powers and cannot enact any Laws. In fact he or she cannot really do much of anything. The President is a leader not a dictator.

And while this system is certainly not perfect it exists for valid reasons that have been proven to work well over 200+ years of our history. It has survived a Civil War, two World Wars, several horribly wrong Wars, Watergate, a Great Depression, and much, much more. And it will survive Trump.

Hope this helped.



15 comments:

  1. Well written, Rixx.

    I will say, though, that the President does have one awesome weapon in the leadership arsenal. That is the power of Veto. With Veto, he can singlehandedly wipe out the decisions of the House and Senate.

    Granted, the House and Senate can band together and push it through, but lets be realistic, the herding of 530 cats takes some time. Sometimes, too much time.

    Random

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    1. True, the power of Veto is a strong one. The consequences have always been enough to give pause however, use that power too much and you suddenly have a Congress unwilling to work with you. Presidents have been frozen out of the system before.

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    2. As a Libertarian, I would love nothing more than for the government to not do anything. :)

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    3. On top of the veto power, the President also has the use of Executive Orders, which are forms of decree based on existing laws that themselves act as laws. This is from where Rixx's reference to expanded executive authority stems. So while the President cannot outright create new laws, which is the jurisdiction of the Congress, he can use Executive Orders which have the full force of law.

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    4. ...only thing with executive orders is that they can be undone by another President.

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  2. My biggest issue with the electoral college is the all or nothing approach of it. If I were a republican in California or a democrat in Texas, my vote for president is pretty meaningless due to how far left or right that state is. There needs to be some proportionate system. Maybe a straight proportion (i.e. you get 60% of the vote in the state you get 60% of their electoral college votes) or maybe like I believe NH does it (the popular vote of the state gets two electoral college votes for the senators the the popular vote of each district goes that way.)

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    1. Actually each State does have its own rules regarding their own Electoral votes. Some States, like Nebraska and Maine, based the vote on Congressional districts. That's why Hillary won Maine, except for one vote from one Congressional district.

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    2. They have rules punishing faithless electors (which has never been enforced to date). It is also unclear that the they punishments is even constitutional. Electors are still free to vote for whom ever they want or not at all. It would be a nice end to all this drama if we had some faithless electors!


      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faithless_elector

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    3. The Electors are selected by each party for reasons, many are former officials with ties to the party, so it would be hard to imagine many breaking free.

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    4. Yes but some are elected and while others are appointed by state legislature. While not likely it is possible for them to "break free". I hope they do! This election has been the best drama llama ever! MOAR DRAMA PLZ!

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    5. And the Cubs won the World Series!!

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  3. Excellent, as always, Rixx.

    One thing, just as an historical note I'd mention (at the risk of potentially confusing people): You are, of course, 100% right that, beyond the Presidential election, everything else is handled via popular vote. But it was not always that way.

    Until 1911 and the 17th Amendment, Federal Senators were not at all directly elected by the people, but by each state legislator. To have them elected directly by the people was a big change.

    Just an historical note. :)

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    1. You are correct, there have been many changes over the years but I thought it best not to mention them.

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  4. Had an unpleasant argument with someone who argued that the combination of a republican minority winning the the HoR and the presidency, (and all those governorships) despite their lack of a majority of votes, was not a sign that it was a tyranny of the minority.

    I feel for everyone that's not included in the current compact of white low information voters.

    Apparently the attacks on minorities have already begun.

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  5. As a side note to this discussion, Maine is the first State that passed (narrowly) a measure introducing Ranked Choice Voting, a much better way of voting, and one that we in Eve use for the CSM votes...
    http://www.npr.org/2016/10/29/499867729/ranked-choice-voting-maine-considers-big-change-to-election-process

    Hopefully, like the legalization of marijuana, this can be implemented in other states too going forward...

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