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Electoral College

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With the surge of controversy surrounding the recent election, the United States has rekindled the Electoral College debate. However, this isn't the first time that a tight election has resulted in unclear or contested results. Nor is it the first time the Electoral College has made a president out of the popular vote loser. In the over two hundred years since its construction, the Electoral College has demonstrated its shortcomings with more than its share of mishaps. Is this system a tribute to democracy and the brilliance of its creators or is it an archaic tradition that should be eliminated?

In order to fully understand the workings of the Electoral College we must first look at its origins. What were the founding fathers considering when they created this system for electing our president? We must go back to the days where people still got around on horseback. In 1787, the nation was made up of only thirteen states and four million people. Crude transportation and communication were all that connected the country, making a national campaign unrealistic. Also, keep in mind that these thirteen states were all protective of their own rights and distrustful of any national government. The saying was "The office should seek the man, the man shouldn't seek the office (Kimberling 1)." The goal was to devise a method that would adequately represent each state and at the same time reflect the will of the entire country. The founders originally came up with several different ideas to accomplish this. After deciding against a popular national vote, they considered just having the congress or the state legislature select the president. They finally decided on the system that we have today, the Electoral College.

The Electoral College works by representing each state separately in the election. In doing this, the states share power with the federal government. It can be explained as basically having a separate election in each state. Every state has a certain number of allotted electoral votes that will be cast for the presidency. The minimum number a state can have is three. The District of Columbia is also given three electoral votes - the same as the smallest state. Each state is given one vote for each representative in the house and one for each of its two senators. For example, in this year's election, Florida has twenty-five electoral votes: two for its senators and another twenty-three for each of its congressional districts. Whichever candidate wins the popular vote in a particular state wins all of its electoral votes. Due to changes in population, the number of representatives for each state changes every ten years with the new census results. And, consequently, so does the distribution of the electoral votes. This year, five hundred thirty eight votes were apportioned to the fifty states and DC, making the magic number two hundred seventy. Whichever candidate hits two hundred seventy votes wins the presidency.

So just who are these electors? Electors are actual people selected for each election that vote according to the states popular vote. They are typically political party loyalists or individuals that have some affiliation with the candidates. And how are they chosen? Parties nominate electors at their state party conventions or by a vote of the party's central committee in the state. An elector could really be anyone. Only a few regulations are outlined in the constitution as to who cannot be an elector. Obviously, they can't be Senators or Representatives. Interestingly, there is no federal law or constitutional provision that mandates electors to vote as they pledged. Only twenty-four of the fifty states require their electors to vote in accordance with the states popular vote. And, of these, only five states actually have penalties for failure to do so. These penalties are mediocre at best. For example, Oklahoma imposes a one thousand dollar fine. It is, however, quite rare for an elector to change his or her vote - since electors are usually party loyalists. In all of US history, only nine of some 18,000 electors have broken their pledge. And no elector has ever been prosecuted for doing so.

Proponents of the Electoral College insist that the system has been working for more than two centuries and that it embodies the genius of our founding fathers. The system ensures that rural and low populated towns are given appropriate attention and candidates don't just focus on big cities. The system makes it necessary for parties to run separate campaigns for each state. Therefore, a candidate requires a distribution of popular support. Furthermore, the Electoral College has the backing of gun rights supporters and farmers because of their concentration in primarily rural parts of the country. They argue that an election determined by a national popular vote would destroy the already weakened two party system. This would inevitably give rise to wealthy eccentrics and enthusiasts who would jump in the candidate hot seat. Moreover, in a close election decided



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