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American Politics 101 - how a President is elected

Posted by on May. 2, 2012 at 10:36 AM
  • 6 Replies

I thoughtit might be interesting to post some basic info on how our government works, first with how the president is elected:

How Does The Electoral College Work?

Learning About The Presidency

From , former About.com Guide

Although we cast a ballot for a presidential nominee on election day (the first Tuesday in November), in reality we are selecting "electors" -- those people who will cast the deciding ballot. The electoral college is a non-direct election artifact created by the Founding Fathers, most of whom distrusted direct democracy. Electoral votes are based on congressional representation -- the sum of senators and representatives. The total is 538, and 270 votes are needed to be elected.

Allocating Electors Among The States

Each state has electors equal to the number of its Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress. In addition, per the Twenty-third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the District of Columbia has been granted electors as though it were a state. Even though the political parties hold primary elections in U.S. territories, U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College.

Allocating Electors Within The States

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted a winner-take-all popular vote system: the candidate who wins the most votes in the state wins the support of all of that state’s electors.

In two states, Maine (4 electors) and Nebraska (5 electors), a single elector is allocated within each Congressional district and two electors are chosen by statewide popular vote. Maine initiated this practice in 1972; Nebraska, 1992. The 2008 election was the first where either state split its electoral votes. Nebraska allocated one electoral vote to Barack Obama and four to John McCain.

Casting The Electoral Votes

Electors meet in their respective state capitals on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their electoral votes on separate ballots for President and Vice President. In 2008, that meeting will be held December 15.

Each elector casts one vote for President and one vote for Vice President. Electors are technically free to vote for anyone eligible to be President, but in practice an elector pledges to vote for a specific candidate.

Five copies of the state's Certificate of Vote are completed and signed by each Elector. One copy is sent to President of the U.S. Senate (the sitting Vice President of the United States) by certified mail.

The Congressional Certification Of Election

The Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandates that the Congress assemble in joint session to count the electoral votes and declare the winners (president and vice president) of the election. Subsequent federal law sets the date for this joint session of Congress: the sixth day of January in the calendar year immediately following the meetings of the presidential electors.

The meeting is held at 1:00 p.m. EST in U.S. House of Representatives, and each chamber appoints two tellers to count the vote. If there are no objections, the presiding officer declares the result of the vote. To be valid, an objection must be lodged by both a Senator and a Representative.

Determining The Winners of The Election

In order to be elected, a candidate must have a majority (since 1964, at least 270) of the electoral votes. Should no candidate for President win a majority of the electoral votes, the decision is referred to the U.S. House of Representatives. Should no candidate for Vice President possess a majority of the electoral votes, the decision is referred to the U.S. Senate.

Presidential Election By The House of Representatives

Should there be an electoral vote tie (such as 269-to-269) or no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes (such as 268-267-3), then the U.S. House of Representatives must go into session immediately to select the President. The U.S. Constitution limits the House to selecting from the top three Presidential candidates. Each state delegation has only one vote and the District of Columbia does not have a vote. A candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes (26) to become the President-elect.

The House of Representatives has chosen the President only twice: once under Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 (Thomas Jefferson, 1801) and once under the Twelfth Amendment (John Quincy Adams, 1825).

Vice Presidential Election By The Senate

If no candidate for Vice President receives an absolute majority of electoral votes, then the Senate must elect a Vice President. The U.S. Constitution limits the Senate to selecting from the top two Vice Presidential candidates. At least two-thirds of the Senate must be present for balloting to take place. Each state receives two votes, per normal Senate rules. According to the Twelfth Amendment, a majority of the whole Senate (51 votes today) is required for election.

The Senate has elected the Vice President only once, on February 8, 1837. Richard Mentor Johnson (D-KY) was the controversial running mate of Martin Van Buren (D-NY), who was duly elected but Johnson received only only 147 electoral votes, one short of a majority.
by on May. 2, 2012 at 10:36 AM
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Replies (1-6):
JakeandEmmasMom
by Gold Member on May. 2, 2012 at 10:40 AM

 I hope this is considered on topic -- let me know if it's not, OP, and I'll delete this response -- but I'd be really curious to hear what people think of the electoral college.  Do you all like that system or do you think it should be scrapped in favor of direct popular vote?

matreshka
by Gold Member on May. 2, 2012 at 10:45 AM
1 mom liked this

I would think this is very on topic, after all this is an election group.

I think you raise an important question, which was one of my hopes posting some info like this.

I believe in one person-one vote, and with the electoral college that doesn't really happen.  I would like a direct popular vote.

IMO, the elecotral College is outdated, and still serves to keep the powers at be in charge, switching between parties every few election cycles.  With a direct popular vote, I think 3rd parties have more of a chance.

Quoting JakeandEmmasMom:

 I hope this is considered on topic -- let me know if it's not, OP, and I'll delete this response -- but I'd be really curious to hear what people think of the electoral college.  Do you all like that system or do you think it should be scrapped in favor of direct popular vote?


JakeandEmmasMom
by Gold Member on May. 2, 2012 at 10:59 AM

 That would be a positive.  I think it would make the major two parties work harder for people's votes if third parties had more of a shot.

My concern would be that, basically, the only votes that would really matter would be the votes of people who live in places with higher population density.  Not that they are monolithic voters, but I do think that there are differences in what is important to people who live in rural areas versus people who live in urban areas.  My concern is that the rural voters would be essentially disenfranchised.

Quoting matreshka:

I would think this is very on topic, after all this is an election group.

I think you raise an important question, which was one of my hopes posting some info like this.

I believe in one person-one vote, and with the electoral college that doesn't really happen.  I would like a direct popular vote.

IMO, the elecotral College is outdated, and still serves to keep the powers at be in charge, switching between parties every few election cycles.  With a direct popular vote, I think 3rd parties have more of a chance.

Quoting JakeandEmmasMom:

 I hope this is considered on topic -- let me know if it's not, OP, and I'll delete this response -- but I'd be really curious to hear what people think of the electoral college.  Do you all like that system or do you think it should be scrapped in favor of direct popular vote?


 

new_mom808
by Bronze Member on May. 2, 2012 at 11:43 AM

 I agree, the electoral college completely baffles me. I wonder why the founders distrusted a direct democracy so much.

I didnt know that the territories dont vote in the general election. I also wonder why that is.

kohler
by on May. 2, 2012 at 1:46 PM


Presidential elections don't have to be this way.

 

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

 

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the primaries.

                           

When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes- enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

                             

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

 

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO - 68%, FL - 78%, IA 75%, MI - 73%, MO - 70%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM- 76%, NC - 74%, OH - 70%, PA - 78%, VA - 74%, and WI - 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK - 70%, DC - 76%, DE - 75%, ID - 77%, ME - 77%, MT - 72%, NE 74%, NH - 69%, NV - 72%, NM - 76%, OK - 81%, RI - 74%, SD - 71%, UT - 70%, VT - 75%, WV - 81%, and WY - 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR - 80%,, KY- 80%, MS - 77%, MO - 70%, NC - 74%, OK - 81%, SC - 71%, TN - 83%, VA - 74%, and WV - 81%; and in other states polled: AZ - 67%, CA - 70%, CT - 74%, MA - 73%, MN - 75%, NY - 79%, OR - 76%, and WA - 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

 

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

 

NationalPopularVote                                                                 

Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc


kohler
by on May. 2, 2012 at 1:51 PM

None of the 10 most rural states (VT, ME, WV, MS, SD, AR, MT, ND, AL, and KY) is a battleground state.

The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes does not enhance the influence of rural states, because the most rural states are not battleground states, and they are ignored.

Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in the current handful of big states.

Seven western states (Arizona, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming), with only about a third of California's population, generated almost the same popular-vote margin (1,219,595) for George W. Bush in 2004 as John Kerry's margin in California (1,235,659). But, John Kerry received 55 electoral votes from California, while Bush received only 33 from the seven western states.

With National Popular Vote, every vote would be equal. Candidates would reallocate the money they raise to no longer ignore 2/3rds of the states and voters. 

With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates' attention, much less control the outcome.

The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States.  Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

Any candidate who ignored, for example, the 16% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a "big city" approach would not likely win the national popular vote.

If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city

A nationwide presidential campaign, with every vote equal, would be run the way presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods. The big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami do not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida.                      

The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate knows. When and where every vote is equal, a campaign must be run everywhere.

With National Popular Vote, when every vote is equal, everywhere, it makes sense for presidential candidates to try and elevate their votes where they are and aren't so well liked. But, under the state-by-state winner-take-all laws, it makes no sense for a Democrat to try and do that in Vermont or Wyoming, or for a Republican to try it in Wyoming or Vermont.

Even in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don't campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don't control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn't have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger).   A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles.   If Los Angeles cannot control statewide elections in California, it can hardly control a nationwide election.                                      

In fact, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland together cannot control a statewide election in California.

Similarly, Republicans dominate Texas politics without carrying big cities such as Dallas and Houston.

There are numerous other examples of Republicans who won races for governor and U.S. Senator in other states that have big cities (e.g., New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) without ever carrying the big cities of their respective states. 

With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes, it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes!


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