538 Members of the Electoral College Determine the Identity of the President of the United States
Why didn't the founding fathers of the United States make it easy and just let the Presidential candidate with the most votes win the election? The answer is critical to understanding the Electoral College and the United States of America. The founding fathers created the Electoral College as a middle ground between the election of the President by a Congressional vote and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.
Also, the founders had no intention of creating a pure, majority rule democracy. After a careful study of history, they decided that they did not want a pure democracy. Two wolves and a lamb voting on what's for dinner is the colorful description of a pure democracy! The founding fathers wanted to avoid this at all cost. This is why there are three branches of government, Executive, Legislative and Judicial. It is why each state has two Senators, regardless of the population, but has different numbers of Representatives based on the states’ population. Moreover, it is why it takes a super-majority in Congress and three-quarters of the states to change the Constitution.
It is important to understand that before agreeing to the Electoral College, the founders considered several possible methods of selecting a president. One rejected idea was to have the Congress select the president. Another idea was to have the State legislatures select the president. And a third idea was to have the president selected by a direct popular vote.
Here's How the Election Works
The Presidential Election happens in two phases. The first phase is purely democratic. The United States holds 51 popular elections every Presidential election year, one in each state and one in the District of Columbia. For example, on Election Day in 2012, Americans may have thought they were voting for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, but they were voting for a slate of Presidential Electors.
The second phase takes place in December of every Presidential Election year. This phase is the election among the Electoral College 538 Electors which determines the identity of the next president. The Electoral College meets in the 51 capitals on Monday after the second Wednesday in December to vote on individual ballots for president and vice president. At least 270 votes are needed to win. If no candidate obtains a majority in the election for president or vice-president, that election is determined by a contingency procedure established by the Twelfth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. In such a scenario, the House of Representatives picks one of the top three electoral vote recipients as the president, while the Senate selects one of the top two vice-presidential electoral vote-winners as vice president.
Finally, the electoral votes are counted and certified by Congress. On January 6 of the year following the presidential election, the House of Representatives and Senate meet in joint session in the House chamber. The Vice President opens the electoral vote certificates from each state. He then passes the certificates to four vote counters, two appointed by each house, which announces the results. After the counting of the votes, the results are declared by the Vice President.
Why is the Electoral College Important and Necessary?
The Electoral College is important and necessary because the system encourages coalition building and national campaigning. To win, the candidate must have support from all types of voters from different parts of the country. If the candidate only wins the South or the Midwest, that is not good enough. A candidate cannot win 270 Electoral votes if she only receives support from one part of the country.
If winning was only about getting the most votes, a candidate could concentrate all of her efforts in the largest cities or the largest states. For example, most people think that George W. Bush won the 2000 election because of Florida. That is partly right, but he won the election because he managed to flip one state that the Democrats thought was safe, West Virginia. West Virginia’s four Electoral votes enabled President Bush to win the election.
Also, the Electoral College makes it harder to steal elections. Votes must be stolen in the right state to change the outcome of the Electoral College. With so many swing states where the vote could go either majority Democratic or majority Republican each presidential election, it is hard to predict where to steal votes. However, without the Electoral College, any vote stolen in any precinct in the country could affect the national outcome.
In closing, the Founding Fathers were proud of the Electoral College, which met with widespread approval by the delegates of the 1787 U. S. Constitutional Convention. The founders were always trying to work out a fair balance to make sure that all states had some representation. Thus, even today, candidates cannot ignore states with small populations.