Workings of the Electoral College

How can a presidential candidate win the most votes, but lose the general election? Why would the framers of our Constitution develop a system that would allow it? The founding fathers wanted the American people to have a direct voice in electing their leaders but they saw only two methods for achieving this, both of them flawed. Option one: the election could be based on the popular vote. But because of our nation’s structure at the time (slow travel and little mass communication), such an election would bring forth a huge number of regionally popular candidates rather than one leader for the whole country. Option two: Congress could vote for the President, but then the election would depend on the personal opinions and political agendas of the congressmen. Therefore, a compromise: The Electoral College was established in the United States Constitution (article II, section I). With this process, the American people vote for “electors” who then vote for President. Each state is allotted a number of electors equal to the number of state senators and state representatives combined. The state laws of appointing electors vary, but most states determine the electors (generally slated by the political parties) by state-wide popular vote. A winner-takes-all rule is applied in all but two states, where if a presidential candidate wins the popular vote in a State they then are pledged to receive all of the electoral votes for that state. The exceptions are the states of Maine and Nebraska, where they award electoral votes proportionately. For example, Maine uses a tiered system where a single elector is chosen form Maine’s two congressional districts. The other two of Maine’s four electoral votes are determined by a statewide popular vote. On December 15, 2008 (CHECK DATE), each state’s electors will meet in their respective states and cast their electoral votes for the President and the Vice president. The electoral votes are sealed and sent to the President of the U.S. Senate and are read aloud to both Houses of Congress on January 6th. The candidate with the most electoral votes – 270 or more – (over one half of the 538 possible electoral votes) is declared president. If a candidate does not win a majority of the electoral votes the choice is then referred to the House of Representatives. On January 20, 2008, at noon, the elected president and vice president are sworn into office. Critics of the Electoral College argue that it is undemocratic and gives certain swing states disproportionate weight in selecting the President and Vice President. Supporters argue that the Electoral College is an important feature of the federal system and assert that it protects the rights of smaller states. Many constitutional amendments have been introduced to Congress, hoping to find a replacement of the Electoral College with a direct popular vote, but no proposal has ever successfully passed in both houses.