Tiny ‘college’ holds huge power

Published 11:39 am Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It’s a “college” where the only degree awarded is certification of the highest office in our nation.

Those attending this “college” do so just once every four years….the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December following a presidential election.

Instead of being called students, those in this college are referenced as electors. These people are hand-chosen by the political parties in each state prior to the General Election in November. Generally, the parties either nominate slates of potential electors at their state party conventions or they chose them by a vote of the party’s central committee. This happens in each state for each party by whatever rules the state party and (sometimes) the national party have for the process. This first part of the process results in each presidential candidate having their own unique slate of potential electors.

The number of electors for each state varies according to the number of congressional seats held. In North Carolina’s case, we have 15 electors, a number representing our 13 members of the US Congress and our two members in the US Senate.

The presidential candidate who wins the popular vote of a state receives those all those respective electors. This applies in each state except for Maine and Nebraska where electors are assigned based on a proportional distribution of the popular vote.

While there is no federal law prohibiting an elector from casting their individual vote for a losing presidential candidate, most “toe the line” when it comes to that process. Twenty six states do have laws on the books that require an elector to cast their vote for the candidate that won the popular vote in that state. North Carolina is one of those 26. An elector in our state who fails to abide by the law will have their vote voided and will be replaced. The lawbreaker is also subject to a $500 fine.

With all this said, for the 121 million-plus citizens of the United States who cast a ballot for president/vice president last week, you were actually electing an elector. There are 538 electors nationwide, meaning it takes 270 of them to produce a majority and elect one candidate over another.

At the close of last week’s election, which is yet to be certified, Donald Trump topped the popular vote in 28 states and was rewarded with 290 electoral votes. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton won 20 states and gained 228 electoral votes.

There are two states – Michigan and New Hampshire – where the popular vote is so razor thin that no winner has yet to be declared. As of Sunday, Trump held roughly a 12,000 vote lead in Michigan while Clinton led New Hampshire by less than 3,000 votes. No matter the outcome in those two states, Trump still has enough electoral votes to win the presidency.

Overall, Clinton leads the popular vote (60,981,118 to 60,350,241). But this nation has used the electoral college format since 1787 to declare, without fail, 44 previous winners.

The fact that Clinton won the popular vote has left some to scratch their heads in amazement, believing that the Electoral College is outdated and no longer necessary. Some are calling for a Constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College.

The reasons for this method of choosing our nation’s leader are two-fold: to create a buffer between population and the selection of a President; and to give fair and equal representation to the smaller states.

Actually, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, it was favored to have members of Congress to elect the president. After much debate, that idea was struck down in fear of having our leader chosen by a small group of individuals. A compromise was reached, using the state-by-state popular vote to select the electors. 

Until someone invents a better “mousetrap” when it comes to choosing our president, the Electoral College remains as the most fair and balanced way to perform this task.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal