I know this subject has been briefly discussed, in passing, but when I was a High School History teacher, the hardest thing for my 10th grade Civics class to understand, I found, was the Electoral College: what it is, why it was established, and how it works. With the election looming, I thought we here on Writer Beat could discuss the body and its machinations, to dispel any misunderstandings that apparently so many of our fellow citizens have about the process.
Like a lot of our Constitutional compromises, the Electoral College was a trade-off designed to keep the mob rule of democracy from electing a demagogue based on sheer popularity. I know, I know, it's impossible to imagine that ever happening, right?
So, the idea is that each state has a certain number of Electors, based on their representation in congress. To review that, every state has two Senators, regardless of its size, and as another compromise between big and small states, the other house of Congress, the House of Representatives, is made up of Congressmen apportioned based on population, with states having larger populations having more Representatives. So, as long as there's fifty states, there's one hundred (50x2) Senators, but the number of Representatives can increase or decrease in each state, and in Congress, based on apportionment as a population increases or decreases, as measured after each Census at the end of each decade. The next Census, and therefore the next opportunity for reapportionment, when states may gain or lose Representation in Congress, will be in 2020.
The number of Electors a state has, then, is the same as the combined number of Senators and Congressmen it has. All but two states are 'winner-take all', with the candidate who wins the majority of the vote, or a plurality, in that state, receiving all of that state's Electoral votes. With those two exceptions, the vote can be split, by Congressional district. I know, it's sounding more and more complicated, but I'm trying to keep this simple.
The President isn't elected on November 8th. The Electoral College meets in January to select the President. If no candidate gets the 270 Electoral votes to make a majority, the decision goes to the House of Representatives. That's happened, before. The awkward thing is that states have different means of selecting who will be an Elector, from elected officials to party hacks and activists. They're SUPPOSED to follow the will of the people of their state, at least traditionally, but they don't HAVE to. After all, that's why the Electoral College was created in the first place, wasn't it?
So, the candidate with the greatest number of votes on November 8th won't necessarily be the next President. Just ask Al Gore.