BY CHARLES KUMOLU
NOVEMBER 7, 2012:  Dateline:   United States of America, precisely, New York City.  That was where Donald  Trump was, as of the time the results of the presidential election held earlier on that day, started trickling in.

The early results indicated that Mitt Romney, who was the Republican standard bearer, may get the popular vote but lose the Electoral College to Barack Obama.

Though, that projection did not turn out exactly, as the then second-term-seeking President secured 332 Electoral College votes against Romney’s 206, just as he also scored 65,915,795 popular votes to his opponent’s 60,933,504 votes.

Electoral College (de.usembassy.gov)
Electoral College (de.usembassy.gov)

Faced with Romney’s imminent defeat at the electoral college in line with the projection, a disturbed Trump, twitted thus on his Twitter handle: @realDonaldTrump ’’The electoral college … a disaster for a democracy.”  ‘’This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!’’

Instructively, Obama won both the Electoral College and the Popular Vote but Trump’s anger over the Electoral College was not in isolation neither was it the first of its kind over the Electoral College.

The Electoral College, which is a unique system of electing American presidents, has in its two-century history, been trailed by anger, excitement, criticisms and misconception. 

Though its origin, practicability and import are more understood by Americans, the role it plays in the emergence of an American President, especially in modern times, is largely becoming a point of discomfort for those it was made for.

To put it simply, the workings of the Electoral College is daily becoming an antithesis of one of the core principles of American democracy, which recognises the inalienable right of the majority to choose who leads them.

Consider this: Clinton had 59,755,284 in the popular votes, defeating Trump, who scored 59,535,522 in that regard.  But the Electoral College gifted Trump 290 votes as against Clinton’s 232.

Her victory at the popular votes level implied that she had 47.6 percent of the total votes cast while Trump got 47.3 percent.

Emphatically, Clinton did not just win the popular vote, she got it with a wide margin.

But that was short of what was needed to make her President of the free world.

While Americans are not lost as to why someone, who got the highest number of votes did not make it to the White House, many across the world can’t stop asking: What manner of process is Electoral College? At the same time, reports suggest that Americans are getting more irritated by that political culture.

However, to properly understand this voting method and what it stands for, an appreciation of its historical foundation becomes unavoidable and imperative.

What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors who cast votes to decide the President and Vice-President of the United States. When voters go to the polls on the first or second Tuesday of November in the fourth year of the incumbent, they choose which candidate receives their state’s electors. The candidate who receives 270 of the votes wins the Presidency. The number 538 is the sum of the nation’s 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia.

Legal origin

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered several methods of electing the President, including selection by Congress, by the governors of the states, by the state legislatures, by a special group of Members of Congress chosen by lot, and by direct popular election. Late in the convention, the matter was referred to the Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters, which devised the Electoral College system in its original form.

This plan, which met with widespread approval by the delegates, was incorporated into the final document with only minor changes. It sought to reconcile differing state and federal interests, provide a degree of popular participation in the election, give the less populous states some additional leverage in the process by providing “senatorial” electors, preserve the presidency as independent of Congress, and generally insulate the election process from political manipulation.

In a piece on the subject by a former Deputy Director, FEC Office of Election Administration in the US, William C. Kimberling, he observed thus: ”The structure of the Electoral College can be traced to the Centurial Assembly system of the Roman Republic. Under that system, the adult male citizens of Rome were divided, according to their wealth, into groups of 100 (called Centuries). Each group of 100 was entitled to cast only one vote either in favor or against proposals submitted to them by the Roman Senate.

In the Electoral College system, the States serve as the Centurial groups (though they are not, of course, based on wealth), and the number of votes per state is determined by the size of each State’s Congressional Delegation. Still, the two systems are similar in design and share many of the same advantages and disadvantages.

”The similarities between the Electoral College and classical institutions are not accidental. Many of the Founding Fathers were well schooled in ancient history and its lessons. In the evolution of the Electoral College, there have been some interesting developments and remarkable outcomes. Critics often try to use these as examples of what can go wrong. Yet, most of these historical curiosities were the result of profound political divisions within the country which the designers of the Electoral College system seem to have anticipated as needing resolution at a higher level.”

How members are nominated

Nomination of elector-candidates is another of the many aspects of this system left to state and political party preferences. Most states prescribe one of two methods: 34 states require that candidates for the office of presidential elector be nominated by state party conventions, while a further ten mandate nomination by the state party’s central committee. The remaining states use a variety of methods, including nomination by the governor (on recommendation of party committees), by primary election, and by the party’s presidential nominee.

How Electoral College works?

Every four years, voters go to the polls and select a candidate for President and Vice-President. In all but two states, the candidate who wins the majority of votes in a state wins that state’s electoral votes.

 In Nebraska and Maine, electoral votes are assigned by proportional representation, meaning that the top vote-getter in those states wins two electoral votes  while the remaining electoral votes are allocated congressional district by congressional district. These rules make it possible for both candidates to receive electoral votes from Nebraska and Maine, unlike the winner-takes-all system in the other 48 states.

Neither the Constitution of the United States nor Federal election laws compel electors to vote for their party’s candidate. That said, twenty-seven states have laws on the books that require electors to vote for their party’s candidate if that candidate gets a majority of the state’s popular vote. In 24 states, no such laws apply, but common practice is for electors to vote for their party’s nominee.

If no one gets a majority of Electoral College votes

If no one gets a majority of electoral votes, the election is thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives. The top three contenders face off with each state casting one vote. Whoever wins a majority of states wins the election. The process is the same for the Vice Presidency, except that the U.S. Senate makes that selection.

When Electoral College cast its votes

Each state’s electors meet on the Monday following the second Wednesday of December. They cast their votes then, and those votes are sent to the President of the Senate who reads them before both houses of Congress on January 6th.

The Electoral College determines the President and Vice-President of the United States. The Electoral College system also distinguishes the United States from other systems where the highest vote-getter automatically wins. This so-called indirect election process has been the subject of criticism and attempted reform, though proponents of it maintain that it ensures the rights of smaller states and stands as an important piece of American federalist democracy.

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