The United States
Presidential Election Process
Objectives: To develop
a better understanding
of the Electoral College
No First 5- Get out
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
Does the popular vote elect the
• So who does?
– Electors choose the president and states
each have their own way of choosing electors
• Huh? What about voting?
During the General Election when
casting a ballot for a particular
candidate, voters are actually
voting for a slate of electors.
These electors in turn will vote for
that candidate in the Electoral
The Electoral College was devised
for 3 reasons
1. The framers of the Constitution feared
direct democracy. Hamilton and the other
founders did not trust the population to
make the right choice.
―election should be made by men most
capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to
the station‖ – James Madison
The Electoral College was devised
for 3 reasons
2. The founding fathers wanted to protect
the interests of smaller states and rural
The Electoral College was devised
for 3 reasons
3. The Electoral College helps dilute the
effect of votes from densely populated
centers which may steer away from
the concerns of the rest of the country
Presidential Electors are nominated by their state
political parties in the summer before the Popular
Vote on Election Day
• In some states, the Electors are nominated
in primaries the same way that other
candidates are nominated
• Other states nominate Electors in party
The number of electors for each state is
# of senators + # of representatives
All states have a minimum of 3 electoral
The party that wins a state elects
its entire slate of Electors.
This is known as a
Winner Take-all System
(2 exceptions: Maine & Nebraska)
The Presidential Electors meet in
their respective state capitols in
December, 41 days following the
election, at which time they cast
their electoral votes. Thus the
"electoral college" never meets as
one national body.
Candidates must receive
a majority of the
electoral vote to be
declared the President-
elect or Vice-President-
435 U.S. Representatives
100 U.S. Senators
= 535 electoral votes
+ 3 electoral votes (Washington D.C.)
= 538 total electoral votes
If no candidate for President
receives an absolute electoral
majority 270 votes out of the 538
possible, then the House of
Representatives is required to go
into session immediately to vote for
(an even split would be 269 votes)
The House votes en-bloc by state
for this purpose that is, one vote
per state, which is determined by
the majority decision of the
delegation from that state.
if a state delegation is evenly split
that state is considered as
This vote would be repeated if
necessary until one candidate
receives the votes of more than
half the state delegations—at least
26 state votes, given the current
number, 50, of states in the union.
If no candidate for Vice President receives
an absolute majority of electoral votes, then
the United States Senate must do the same,
with the top two vote getters for that office
as candidates. The Senate votes in the
normal manner in this case, not by States. It
is unclear if the sitting Vice President would
be entitled to cast his usual tie-breaking vote
if the Senate should be evenly split on the
If the House of Representatives has not
chosen a winner in time for the inauguration
(noon on January 20), then the Constitution
of the United States specifies that the new
Vice President becomes Acting President
until the House selects a President. If the
winner of the Vice Presidential election is
not known by then either, then under the
Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the
Speaker of the House of Representatives
would become Acting President until the
House selects a President or the Senate
selects a Vice President
The People‘s Choice
• Is the President of the United
States ―the people‘s choice?‖
• In 2000, Al Gore received
50,999,897 votes to George W.
• Nixon won the presidency in 1968
with 43.4% of the popular vote.
• Bill Clinton won in 1992 with only
43% of the total votes.
• Woodrow Wilson won in 1912 with
• Abraham Lincoln won in 1860 with
39.8% of the popular vote—the all-
time winner in the ―least popular
Who Are the Electors?
• Though there may be party and state rules
that ―bind‖ electors to cast their ballots for
the candidate with the most votes in that
state, the Constitution appears to provide no
bar to electors who wish to vote their
conscience, rather than the party line.
• Indeed, a number of recent electors have
case their votes for candidates other than
the one they were ―pledged‖ to support.
• For example, in 1976 one of the Washington
state Republican electors pledged to Gerald
Ford actually cast his vote for Ronald
Reagan. Had only 5,559 voters in Ohio and
3,687 voters in Hawaii voted for Ford instead
of Carter, with the one electoral vote ―switch‖
from Ford to Reagan, For would have
finished with 269 electoral votes to Carter‘s
268 and Reagan‘s 1. The House would have
decided the election.
• In 1988, one of the electors pledged to
Democrat Michael Dukakis cast his vote for
Dukakis‘ running mate Lloyd Bentsen.
November 5, 2009
• Objectives: To develop a better
understanding of the Electoral College
• Question: How many electoral votes does
it take to win the presidency? What
happens if it is a tie?
• Agenda: Notes then Presidential Karaoke
How are electors
Each party determines its own
method for selecting electors. In the
Democratic Party, each congressional
nominee and each US Senate
nominee (determined by the last two
elections) designates one elector
whose names are filed with
Secretary of State by October 1 of
the presidential election year.
In the Republican Party, the nominees for
governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer,
controller, attorney general, secretary of state,
United States Senators (again, going back two
elections) the Senate and Assembly Republican
leaders, all elected officers of the Republican
state central committee, the national
committeeman and committeewoman, the
president of the Republican county central
committee chairmen's organization and the
chair or president of each Republican volunteer
organization officially recognized by the state
central committee act as electors.
A faithless elector is one who casts an
electoral vote for someone other than
whom they have pledged to elect. On
158 occasions, electors have cast their
votes for president in a different
manner than that prescribed by the
legislature of the state they represent.
So what do you need to win?
• There are a total of 538 electoral votes.
• A president must get 270 to be declared
• If no one gets that number, the House of
Representatives gets to pick the president
from the top 3 vote-getters.
• Then the Senate would choose the Vice-
President from the top 2 vote-getters
2000 - Barbara Lett-Simmons (Democrat, District of Columbia)
In the most recent act of Elector abstention, Barbara Lett-Simmons, a
Democratic Elector from the District of Columbia, did not cast her vote
for Al Gore as expected. Her abstention was meant to protest the lack of
Congressional representation for Washington, DC.
Lett-Simmons was the first Elector to abstain from voting since 1832.
Her abstention did not affect the outcome of the election.
1988 - Margaret Leach (Democrat, West Virginia)
Margaret Leach, a nurse from Huntington, WV, was pledged to the
Democratic Party. During the Electoral College process, Leach learned
that members of the Electoral College were not required to vote for the
candidates they were pledged to.
Upon learning this, she decided to draw more attention to the situation by
switching her votes for President and Vice President. She cast her
Presidential vote for Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic Vice Presidential
candidate, and cast her Vice Presidential vote for Michael Dukakis, the
Democratic Presidential candidate.
Leach tried to convince other Electors to join her, but hers remained the
only unexpected vote.
Resolving Deadlocks in the House:
One State-One Vote
• How should state
delegations decide to cast
their single vote?
• The opportunities for
mischief are great. One can
easily imagine the kinds of
promises that would be
made to potential switchers,
given the stakes of the
• The most controversial
Photograph of John Quincy Adams. 1848.
• 1800-The election in 1800 went to the House of
Representatives after a voting mix-up left
Thomas Jefferson and his vice presidential
running mate Aaron Burr with the same number
of electoral votes. It took the House 36 ballots
and six days to declare Jefferson the winner.
Congress fixed this in 1804 with the 12th
Amendment, which required that the president
and vice president be voted on separately.
• 1824: Despite losing the popular and electoral votes, John Quincy
Adams became president. The election was known to some as the
―Corrupt Bargain‖ after Adams named Henry Clay, the speaker of
the House of Representatives—and the man who convinced
Congress to elect Adams—to serve as secretary of state.
Adams faced Andrew Jackson, who won the popular vote and the
most electoral votes, but not the majority. So, as in 1800, the House
of Representatives had to decide the election. Clay had been among
the presidential candidates, but had the fewest electoral votes.
Before the House had a chance to consider the matter, though, ―a
Philadelphia newspaper published an anonymous letter claiming
that Clay would support Adams in return for an appointment as
Secretary of State.
• Before the 2000 election, there was the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes
and Samuel Tilden, governors of Ohio and New York, respectively. Although both
parties accused each other of corruption during the campaign, it was after the votes
had been cast that the shenanigans really started.
Hayes went to bed Election Night believing he had lost. When the votes had been
counted, Tilden had won the popular vote and had a 184-165 lead in the electoral
vote. However, 20 electoral votes in South Carolina, Oregon, Florida and Louisiana
were contested; Hayes‘ supporters sent messages to Republican leaders in the
southern states saying, ―With your state sure for Hayes, he is elected. Hold your
Both sides were thought to have engaged in fraud, and the weeks passed without a
In December, Congress stepped in, forming a 15-member committee to investigate
the matter. In February, the commission voted 8-7 along party lines to give Florida‘s
electoral votes for Hayes; it would do the same for Louisiana, Oregon, and South
Carolina, giving Hayes the required 185 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Republicans made backroom deals with Democrats to ensure Hayes‘ victory,
promising to appoint Democrats to cabinet positions and end reconstruction efforts.
On March 2—three days before inauguration day—Hayes was officially declared the
―On Monday, March 5, 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in publicly as president
of the United States
• Grover Cleveland, who was running for a
second term against Benjamin Harrison, had
93,000 more popular votes after the election in
1888. Though he lost in the Electoral College
233 to 168, according to Harper‘s Weekly.
New York and Indiana, which had supported
Cleveland in his first election, swung to favor
Harrison, who won the election
• The election in 2000 ―resulted in the most bizarre vote count in
American history,‖ said the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.
Al Gore narrowly won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral
Though Gore conceded the race the day after Election Day, he
rescinded his concession after learning that Florida was too close to
• In Palm Beach County, an unexpectedly large vote for third-party
candidates leads to questions about the ‗butterfly ballot‘ there,
where the names of candidates are placed on the left and right
columns of a page and a series of punch holes are found in a center
column. Large numbers of disqualified ballots, or ballots where no
vote is registered for president, are found in other counties
• An initial recount in Florida showed Bush ahead by about 300 votes,
of almost 6 million in total. As some counties there started hand
recounts, Bush went to court to stop them.
Florida‘s Supreme Court said the hand-counts could continue, but
set a deadline some county officials did not think they could meet.
The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled that the state Supreme
Court had overstepped its authority by setting new standards to
determine who won the election.
• The court‘s decision was issued on Dec. 12. The Electoral College
met the next week, and Bush received 271 votes to Gore‘s 266.
• National public opinion has long supported the abolition of the
entire Electoral College, yet nothing changes.
Why No • Why? Two reasons: 1) The zeal of small states to protect their
power within the system and 2) opposition from minorities who
believe their power will be diluted.
In 1969, the House voted 338-70 for a constitutional amendment
establishing national direct election by popular vote.
• But in the Senate, southern and small state conservatives aligned
to filibuster the proposal because they believed that reform would
destroy the special influence the electoral college gives their
• Ten years later, the Senate fell fifteen votes short of the necessary
2/3 when Democrats from New York, New Jersey, and Maryland
led the opposition after black and Jewish organizations claimed
that their supposed pivotal power in big swing states would be
• Even if congress were to pass such an amendment, consider the
difficulty of obtaining ratification by ¾ of the states. It only takes 13
states to keep an amendment from being enacted. There are 14
states that reap dramatic benefit from the senatorial bonus:
Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New
Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South
Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. And this list does
not include the additional 14 states whose percentage of the
electoral vote is higher than their percentage of the national
population. What incentive do these states have to ratify a
• Perhaps the biggest lesson from Bush v. Gore (2000) is that the
current presidential election system will almost certainly remain in
tact. The American people‘s apathy toward and acceptance of that
result demonstrates how difficult it would be to obtain a public
groundswell for change.
The Impermeable Article V?
• ―The Congress, whenever two
thirds of both Houses shall deem it
necessary, shall propose
Amendments to this Constitution,
or, on the Application of the
Legislatures of two thirds of the
several States, shall call a
Convention for proposing
Amendments, which, in either Case,
shall be valid to all Intents and
Purposes, as Part of this
Constitution, when ratified by the
Legislatures of three fourths of the
several States, or by Conventions in
three fourths thereof, as the one or
the other Mode of Ratification may
be proposed by the Congress; …
[although] no State, without its
Consent, shall be deprived of its
equal Suffrage in the Senate.‖
Alternatives to a Constitutional Amendment
• Article II, section 1 empowers each state to ―appoint‖ its presidential electors in ―such Manner as
the Legislature thereof may direct.‖ Article I, section 10 authorizes Congress to consent to ―any
agreement or compact‖ by one state with another.
• Large states could compact with one another to appoint electors who will be directed to cast
their votes for the person who wins the greatest number of votes in the overall national election.
The compact would not come into effect until enough states (which could be as few as the 11
largest states) to constitute a majority of the electoral votes had agreed to the compact. Upon
Congress agreeing to the compact, the United States would in effect move to a popularly elected
• Congress could call for a new constitutional convention after 2/3 of the states petition Congress
for such a move. The convention‘s new constitution would only take effect if ratified in a national
• In the end, it is the American people that will determine whether such proposals are possible.
The advent of new technologies, particularly the internet, have made it possible for relatively
easy collective action. As a result, electronic petitions and websites have been launched to
change the presidential election process. Will these work?
YOUR VOTE COUNTS
• Did you know:
• That several of our states, including California, Idaho, Oregon, Texas and
Washington, became states by just ONE vote?
• That in 1948, Lyndon B. Johnson, our 36th president, became a U.S. senator
by a ONE vote margin?
• And that same year, if Thomas E. Dewey had gotten ONE vote more per
precinct in Ohio and California, the presidential election would have been
thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives, where Dewey enjoyed more
support than his rival -- incumbent Harry S. Truman? In fact, Dewey was
expected to win the general election by a landslide, so most Republicans
stayed home. Only 51.5 percent of the electorate voted in 1948, and Truman
• Not convinced?
• In the 1960 presidential election, ONE additional vote per precinct in Illinois,
Missouri, New Jersey and Texas would have denied John F. Kennedy the
presidency and put Richard M. Nixon in office eight years earlier.
• In recent years, the outcomes of many state and congressional races have
been reversed as recounts have shifted a handful of votes from one candidate
The 2008 Presidential Election