from: What is the Electoral College?
by Santana Hunt
illustrated with photos used by permission
Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2018
Our election system is complicated.
Here’s what I found out after reading several children’s books, various web pages, and encyclopedia articles about how our votes are counted:
Our election system is complicated.
First of all, The United States is a Republic, not a Democracy, depending on whose definition you use. The writers of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and the rest, did that on purpose. They had a very clear understanding of law and language. Clear enough to be ambiguous, open to interpretation. This is usually a good thing.
Here’s what Meriam-Webster says:
Republic, “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.”
Democracy, “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
The difference: in a democracy, the people vote directly or indirectly through a system of representation. So democracies are more common on a local level: city government; school boards; state officials; but nationally, we are a Republic. (I think)
People we choose to represent us vote for our president. The national parties allocate to each state a certain number of delegates based on complex formulas. https://electoral-vote.com/evp2016/Info/delegates.html These delegates are chosen at the conclusion of each state’s primary. The Democratic Party uses a proportional method for determining the amount of delegates each candidate wins.
HERE’S WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO VOTE IN YOUR PRIMARY:
Delegates are awarded based on a percentage of the popular vote.
Here’s an alphabetical list (by state or territory) to find out when your Presidential Primary is held. https://www.fvap.gov/guide/appendix/state-elections
The Democratic Party has two types of delegates, pledged and unpledged. A superdelegate is just another name for an unpledged delegate. The number of pledged and unpledged is figured out using a complicated formula.
The following definitions are from https://www.usa.gov/voting-and-election-definitions
- Pledged, or bound delegates must support the candidate they were awarded to through the primary or caucus process.
- Unpledged delegates can support any presidential candidate they choose. Superdelegates is another name for unpledged delegates.
Remember: Delegates are chosen by a complicated formula that includes the popular vote each candidate wins during their respective State Primary Elections or Caucuses.
Thousands of people are delegates, 2,470 Republicans and 4,483 Democrats. https://electoral-vote.com/evp2016/Info/delegates.html They vote at their respective Party’s Nominating Convention. To become the presidential nominee, a candidate typically has to win a majority of delegates.
But if no candidate gets the majority during the primaries and caucuses, convention delegates choose the nominee. This happens through additional rounds of voting and is called a Brokered Convention. Most delegates are permitted to vote for whichever candidate they choose, allowing for input from party leadership and political maneuvering. Additional votes are taken until a majority is reached. https://ballotpedia.org/Brokered_conventions
It is unlikely that a person chosen as a party’s candidate through a Brokered Convention will go on to win the National Election. I don’t know why, but here’s a chart: https://ballotpedia.org/Brokered_conventions Scroll down for the Democratic chart. Scroll past that to see the Republican chart.
Did you notice? I haven’t even gotten to the Electoral College yet, but here goes.
Once the Party’s Conventions have taken place and the nominees are chosen by the delegates, we’re ready for the General Election and the Electoral College.
Each state has laws for how Electors are chosen. Generally they are party faithfuls, committed to their respective Political Parties.
Each state has a number of Electors equal to the number of the state’s Representatives plus 2, one for each Senator. “Faithless Electors” are members of the Electoral College who, for whatever reason, do not vote for their party's designated candidate. Most states require faithfulness, but there are no consequences for failure to comply. https://www.fairvote.org/faithless_electors Each Elector usually votes for his or her Party’s nominee. A simple majority of the 538 electoral votes (270), is needed to win.
The Electoral College votes are counted in Congress on January 6, following the November general election. States with larger populations have more Electors making it possible for a candidate to win the overall popular vote but not win the electoral vote. Lots of states with only 3 or a few Electors can add up to a majority of Electors. That’s what happened in 2016.
Over the years, 700 hundred attempts to change the Electoral College have been proposed. It will take a Constitutional Amendment and is unlikely to happen in my lifetime.
In short, our Presidential Election is complicated. It is a several-step process, beginning with the primaries and delegates and ending with the Electoral College vote and Inauguration on January 20.
Each person’s vote carries weight. Maybe more so in local elections, but if more people actually exercise their constitutional right to cast a ballot in a Presidential election, the more influence we, as individuals will have.
-—stay curious! (and vote)