Meet The Electoral College, America’s Most Important Voters
A few famous names are among the 538 Americans about to cast the votes that matter most when electing U.S. presidents. Meet The Electoral College, America’s Most Important Voters
But many are people like Mary Arnold, a retired social worker and a first-time member of the Electoral College.
Ms. Arnold, a Democrat from Columbus, Wis., will cast one of her state’s 10 electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden on Monday, when electors nationwide meet in their states.
“I was blown away to be asked,” she said. “It never occurred to me that I might be an elector.”
Ms. Arnold, who is 72 years old and leads her county’s party organization, said she received a phone call in September from the state Democratic chairman asking if she would like to be an elector. She was told she was selected because she had been a good local leader.
She said the occasion will be the first time she gets dressed up since the coronavirus pandemic hit, and she figures she will stop for takeout food to celebrate during her 30-minute drive home from Madison. “I am going to put on makeup for probably the first time in nine months,” she said.
The nation’s founders created the Electoral College as a compromise between those who favored a direct popular vote and those who wanted lawmakers to pick presidents.
Mr. Biden won the national popular vote by more than seven million ballots, according to the Associated Press. But the number that counts is his electoral vote total, 306, to President Trump’s 232.
Mr. Trump has refused to accept the election outcome and pushed dozens of legal challenges, with losses at all levels including the U.S. Supreme Court. His unwillingness to concede has put a spotlight on the mechanics of choosing the president.
The Constitution doesn’t specify how electors are to be picked, and each state has its own process. Many are elected at state party conventions. In some cases, they are essentially handpicked by party leaders and then confirmed at a special state meeting.
Electors are legally bound in some states to vote for the person who won their state, a requirement the Supreme Court said earlier this year is permissible. In others, so-called faithless electors can break ranks, though that is rare.
The 59th Electoral College that will assemble Monday will be different because of the pandemic. In some states, limits are being placed on the number of guests electors can bring. Others are moving the meetings to larger spaces to accommodate social distancing.
In Vermont, electors will convene at 10 a.m., while those in Hawaii won’t assemble until nine hours later.
In each state, electors will review the election results and sign six certificates. The certificates contain two lists, one that includes the electoral votes for the president and the other the electoral votes for the vice president.
They will then pair those certificates with paperwork from their state’s governor and send the material through registered mail to a variety of places, according to the Congressional Research Service. Single certificates will be sent to Vice President Mike Pence and to the U.S. district court for the area where the electors met. Two certificates will be sent to both the secretary of state, or an equivalent official, and the archivist of the U.S.
The electoral vote won’t be official until Jan. 6, when Mr. Pence is expected to open correspondence from each state during a joint session of Congress and have the totals read aloud. Once a candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, he or she will be declared the winner.
Some well-known people are electors. Hillary Clinton will be among New York Democrats, as will her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader who narrowly lost a 2018 bid for governor, is also an elector.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is a Republican elector, along with Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state and treasurer. Both have been staunch Trump supporters.
Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Trump by about 20,000 votes, provides a typical example of elector composition.
In addition to Ms. Arnold, the nine other Democratic electors are the state party secretary, a state representative, a state senator, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a member of the Democratic National Committee, the president of a tribal council, the lieutenant governor, the governor and the state party chairman.
Some Democrats have pushed to abolish the Electoral College. A Gallup poll in September showed 61% of American adults said the president should be picked by the popular vote, a number that jumps to 89% among Democrats. Among Republicans, 77% favor keeping the Electoral College unchanged.
Some of this year’s participants said the system could use updating.
“I’m not sure it should be abolished, but the way it is now it doesn’t uphold the spirit of democracy in America,” said elector Rachel Paule, a suburban Atlanta resident who is president of the Young Democrats organization in Georgia. “It’s an honor to be part of this process, but I don’t think it’s a perfect process,” she said.
Ms. Paule, who is 27 years old, was asked in February by her state party’s chairwoman to be an elector. She said she would prefer to see a system that avoids the winner-take-all rules used by all but two states. “We are the United States of America,” she said. “One person, one vote not applying to the president is sort of silly to me.”
Alaska elector Judy Eledge, a 73-year-old retired elementary-school principal who leads the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club, said she doesn’t think the system should be changed.
“If you don’t have the Electoral College, you just have the big cities elect everything,” she said. “Our founders were very smart in designing it this way.”
Ms. Eledge, who was picked as an elector in early April at her party’s state convention, will take a nearly two-hour flight over frozen tundra to cast her ballot for Mr. Trump.
More than 3,000 miles to the southeast, Tamon Hamlett hopes his 2006 Nissan holds up for the three-hour drive from Houston to Austin. The Texas college student plans to network around the state capital before and after his vote for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Hamlett, a 19-year-old political-science student at the University of Houston, said he was elected during a July virtual state GOP convention. He had hoped to be elected to the national convention, but fell short and was instead picked as an elector.
“I’ve heard about it my entire life, but now I’m part of it,” he said. “I want to be a model for my fellow students.”
Mr. Hamlett, who has never been to Austin, plans to bring a college friend along. He said he understands the state party will reimburse him for one hotel night and gas for his car. “I’m not old enough to really rent a car,” he said.
GOP Senator Says ‘Country First’ As Electoral College To Meet
Senator Lamar Alexander said the presidential election and its extended aftermath in the U.S. legal system is “over,” and that President Donald Trump, in defeat, needs to put “the country first.”
The Tennessee Republican, who’s retiring at the end of the current congress, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that courts “have resolved the disputes” around the Nov. 3 vote, which ended with Democrat Joe Biden as president-elect.
Alexander said he hopes Trump now congratulates Biden, and “helps him get off to a good start.” The Electoral College is due to gather on Monday to formally ratify results from each state and the District of Columbia.
There’s currently no word from the White House on whether Trump will attend Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, or engage in other formalities related to the transfer of powers between administrations. On Sunday, Trump told Fox News the U.S. could have an “illegitimate” president.”
Most Republicans in Congress haven’t formally acknowledged the election outcome, and Trump continues to push unsubstantiated claims of vote fraud in interviews and in tweets regularly flagged as disputed by Twitter.
MOST CORRUPT ELECTION IN U.S. HISTORY!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2020
Some 126 House Republicans signed on to a Texas lawsuit that urged the Supreme Court to toss out the results from four battleground states that voted for Biden.
The top court rejected the suit in a brief order Friday night, which seemed to end Trump’s long-shot bid to enlist the nation’s judicial system to overturn his loss.
Trump and his allies have lost dozens of cases since the election. In another rebuke on Saturday, a U.S. District judge seated by the president just months ago in Wisconsin said arguments presented ran contrary to the Constitution and “common sense.”
Still, Representative Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday” to “let this legal process play itself out.” And GOP Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is convening the Homeland Security panel on Wednesday to explore election “irregularities” that federal and state officials have said didn’t happen. Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, has said the Department of Justice hasn’t seen evidence of widespread fraud in the election.
“We need to get to the bottom of this, so we’re going to examine the irregularities,” Johnson said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
A few Republican lawmakers have joined Alexander in calling for an end to the post-election challenges, including Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who said that “real men accept a loss with grace.”
I want to be clear: the Supreme Court is not the deep state. The case had no merit and was dispatched 9-0. There was no win here. Complaining and bellyaching is not a manly trait, it’s actually sad. Real men accept a loss with grace.
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) December 12, 2020
A day after thousands of Trump die-hards rallied in Washington to protest the election results — an effort that ended in scattered violence, including stabbings, and arrests — a CBS poll showed that most Americans, but not most Republicans, see Biden as the legitimate winner.
If the Electoral College votes for Biden on Monday, as expected, 75% of Americans, but only 51% of Trump voters, say the president should concede, according to the survey, which was conducted Dec. 8-11 of 2,234 registered voters.
Why An ‘Electoral College’ Chooses The U.S. President
Americans have the longest, most expensive and arguably most complex system of electing a head of state in the world. After all the debates, caucuses, primaries and conventions, the person who gets the most votes can still lose by falling short in one or more “swing states” — as happened most recently in 2016, when Republican Donald Trump won the White House. It’s a system that baffles non-Americans and many Americans as well, and some critics say it’s time to let voters pick their leader directly.
1. Don’t Voters Already Do That?
No. The president is selected via the quirky mechanism called the Electoral College, created by the nation’s founders. Voters in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, choose as many “electors” as they have members of Congress — three to 55, depending on population. Since the total number of electors is 538, the candidate who secures a simple majority, or 270, wins the presidency.
2. How Does The Electoral College Work?
When Americans select a presidential candidate, they are technically voting for a slate of electors who have pledged to support that choice. The role of the electors, who are meeting Monday in their state capitals, is generally to rubber-stamp the result of their state’s popular vote. (Electors technically retain an element of free will, but only on rare occasions does a so-called faithless elector break with his or her party, and states can fine or remove them for doing so.) All but two states have adopted a “winner-take-all” system that awards all the electoral votes to the top vote-getter.
3. Why Does The U.S. Operate This Way?
Some framers of the Constitution wanted Congress to elect the president. Others said state legislators or governors should pick. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who initially wanted the president to be directly elected by the people, proposed the Electoral College as a compromise. The notion was that electors would serve as informed intermediaries between the masses and their government and have independence to break from the popular vote in their states when they deemed that necessary. Endorsing this system in a 1788 letter, Alexander Hamilton said it guaranteed that American presidents would be “characters preeminent for ability and virtue” and not merely adept at “the little arts of popularity.”
4. Who Benefits From This Process?
By design, the electoral system amplifies the importance of small states by guaranteeing all states — even sparsely populated Wyoming — no less than three electors each. It also benefits the handful of “swing” or “battleground” states viewed as most competitive in any given election. They receive disproportionate attention from candidates because, under their winner-take-all systems, even the narrowest popular-vote victory is rewarded with the entire electoral haul.
5. How Can The Leading Vote-Getter Lose The Election?
Consider what happened in 2016. Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton collected the most votes, scoring huge margins of victory in the populous so-called “blue” states of California, New York and Illinois, where Trump had done little campaigning. Trump assembled his winning majority of electoral votes in part by edging out Clinton in Florida, a traditional battleground, and in the historically Democratic-leaning states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump collected all 75 electoral votes in those four states. In all, he won 30 states to Clinton’s 20.
6. How Often Has The Popular Vote Winner Not Been Elected?
It’s happened twice in the last six presidential elections, in 2000 and 2016. Before that it had happened only three times, in 1824, 1876 and 1888. Following the 2000 contest, when Republican George W. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore after a weeks-long recount, there was a surge of interest (generally among Democrats, who had lost) in changing the system to make the popular vote decisive. That push was renewed after 2016.
7. How Close Has The U.S. Come To Changing The System?
In 1969, the House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct popular election. But the initiative died in the Senate. (That vote came the year after a presidential election in which the third-party candidacy of segregationist George Wallace threatened to keep Republican Richard Nixon, the eventual winner, and Democrat Hubert Humphrey below the 270 needed to win.) The Senate considered the amendment again in 1979, three years after Democrat Jimmy Carter’s narrow defeat of Republican Gerald Ford. The 51-48 vote was far short of the two-thirds majority needed to send a proposed constitutional amendment for consideration by the states.
8. Who’s Trying To Change It Now?
Several Democratic senators in 2019 proposed reviving the push to amend the Constitution to do away with the Electoral College, but their bill hasn’t advanced. Federal lawsuits arguing that electoral votes should be awarded in proportion to the popular vote haven’t succeeded so far, either.
9. What Does Trump Say?
In 2012, after Republican Mitt Romney lost his bid to unseat Democratic President Barack Obama, Trump called the Electoral College “a disaster for a democracy.” As president in 2019, he said it’s “far better for the U.S.A.” because it makes candidates “go to many states to win” and prevents big cities from “running the country.”