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Explained: How the Electoral College voting system works

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Posted at 7:47 AM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 07:47:52-05

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) — With questions about the presidential election and so much still up in the air more than a day after the polls closed on Election Day, it could be a good time to take a step back and look at the legislative process. It’s important to remember electors who choose the president were also voted into office by the American people.

The Electoral College is written in the Constitution in Article II, Section I. It reads:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Each state has at least two electoral votes for its Senate seats added to the number of House seats. The number of Americans are waiting for a presidential candidate to hit is 270, the majority of 538 total.

In 48 states and D.C, the winner of the popular vote in that state takes all. Maine and Nebraska give two electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote and one electoral vote to the winner in each congressional district.

“Go into your imagination for a moment and imagine that the Constitutional Convention is trying to create an office, unlike anything ever seen before,” Dr. Gary Gregg, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, explained. “They were creating a president who is not a monarch and that’s a very difficult situation. We’re in the 1780s. The most likely scenario is let Congress choose the president because they’ll probably know who the best candidates are in the country. That has a little problem for us, called separation of powers and checks and balances, that wasn’t going to work.”

So instead they chose to go with electors, but who gets to choose them?

“They have been chosen by the campaigns, they are people that the campaigns believe will be loyal will not go back on their word to vote for that candidate, when the electors meet,” Sam Marcosson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Louisville, said. “In 2016, we actually had seven, by far the most ever in any year, seven electors did not vote for the candidate that they had been pledged to vote for.”

Marcosson said it’s up to each state to choose how to punish that elector, if at all.

“Each state is going to have a different deadline, so like Pennsylvania is going to go all the way counting until Friday at least, then North Carolina, I think, it is maybe until next week, and some the states are already done,” Gregg said.

Federal law gives states until Dec. 8th to settle everything before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14. It’s called the “Safe Harbor Deadline” and was created in the late 1800′s.

Five times in U.S. history, the winner of the presidential election did not win the popular vote. In the past five elections, that’s happened twice, sparking a call to abolish or reform the system.

“Those who oppose the electoral college or wanting it to be substantially reformed, believe that it is outdated, believe that it doesn’t reflect the modern principle that everyone should have an equal vote and a say in the presidency,” Marcosson said. “States that are bigger do not have as big a say in the presidency as their population would indicate.”

Many defenders of the system believe using the popular vote would take attention away from states with smaller populations, and if the race was close and a recount was needed, it would take much longer.

For those who feel like their vote doesn’t count, some argue this presidential election disproves that.

“We have higher of highest turnout in100 years,” Gregg said. “Probably Biden and probably Trump will get more votes than any presidential candidate in history.”

15 states and Washington D.C. have signed onto an alternative plan. It would keep the Electoral College, but have the states award their electors to the winner of the nationwide popular vote, not the state’s popular vote. Those states total 196 electoral votes and the compact needs 74 more electoral votes to take effect.

Getting rid of the Electoral College completely would take a constitutional amendment.