Every four years the President of the United States is chosen by the Electoral College, a nondescript group with a single extraordinary responsibility–but who they are, how they are chosen, and what exactly they do remains a mystery to many at Valley College, until now.
By D.R. Harward, staff writer
In less than 30 days, voters will head to the polls where they will be asked to chose from a plethora of measures and contenders for public offices–an active demonstration of democracy in action. For over 200 years, Americans have prided themselves on being a participatory democracy, government for the people, selected by the people–with one glaring exception, our commander in chief. It’s ironic. A society founded upon the concept that citizens have a voice in choosing the architects of their destiny; there are only a select few whose votes actually count in the process.
The highest office in the land is the only position that we do not directly fill via common vote. In fact, on election day, a vote for Hillary or Trump is a vote for a slate of Electors who have pledged their support to that particular candidate. In California, the Electors of the candidate who receives the most popular votes will become the official state delegation. In early January, the votes are tallied and certified by a joint session of Congress who then officially announce the winner.
The Electoral College process is a mystery to many Americans, perhaps this is due to the infrequency that it is used or to the ‘behind-the-scenes’ nature of the process.
“Is the Electoral College a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association?” asked Joe, a kinetics major.
No, the Electoral College is not that kind of college. According to William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director FEC National Clearinghouse on Election Administration, the word “college” is here as an unexpected nod to the institutional process upon which it was originally based; the College of Cardinals, the body that selects a new Pope in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Electoral College is the collective name given to 51 separately gathered groups of electors that total 538. Each state and the District of Columbia have a different number of electors based upon their total number of congressional representatives. California has the most with 55, followed by Texas with 38 and New York with 29, while seven states and D.C. have only three each.
“When happens after I vote for president?” inquired Melanie a sophomore, while waiting in line to buy a parking pass.
The U.S. Constitution requires that the president be chosen via indirect representation, so when you cast your ballot in November, you aren’t directly voting for the president. In California, and many other states, the candidate with the most votes in the state wins the right to have their unique slate of electors join the College when it meets in December- in other words, it is winner take all.
In early December each group meet in their respective state capitols; each Elector then casts two ballots, one for president and the other for vice president.
” Just who are these so-called Electors and how are they chosen?” wondered Gohar, an aspiring political science major.
It may be easier to identify who they are not–according to the National Archives and Records Administration, “no Senator or Representative or Person holding Office of Trust or Profit under the United States may be appointed an Elector.” With the exception of that very small group, as long as one is over 18 and has been a resident of the state for at least 15 days–anyone can be an Elector in California, theoretically even an unregistered non-citizen.
However, the method of selecting Electors is different in each state–in California it is different for each party.
” What an archaic system, can’t we change it?,” asked Phil , a third-year sophomore.
Even though it can be changed and a lot of people want it to be changed, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. In June, a Gallup poll found that: “when it comes to doing away with the Electoral College, 63 percent would abolish this unique, but sometimes controversial, mechanism for electing presidents…”
Changing the electoral college system would require an amendment to the Constitution, which is a difficult task. However, because the current system ensures the political parties that control American politics, and because almost all of the people who have the power to change it are members of political parties–the chances are slim-to-none that any change will take place.
Yet, despite the obstacles, the National Archives report that over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform the electoral college system- more than any other issue in our nations’ history.