The current workings of the Electoral
College are the result of both design and experience. As it
is allocated a number of Electors equal to the number of its U.S.
Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives
(which may change each decade according to the size of each State's
population as determined in the Census).
parties (or independent candidates) in each State submit to the
State's chief election official a list of individuals pledged to
their candidate for president and equal in number to the State's
electoral vote. Usually, the major political parties select these
individuals either in their State party conventions or through appointment
by their State party leaders while third parties and independent
candidates merely designate theirs.
of Congress and employees of the Federal government are prohibited
from serving as an Elector in order to maintain the balance between
the legislative and executive branches of the Federal government.
caucuses and primaries, the major parties nominate their candidates
for president and vice president in their national conventions traditionally
held in the summer preceding the election. (Third parties and independent
candidates follow different procedures according to the individual
State laws). The names of the duly nominated candidates are then
officially submitted to each State's chief election official so
that they might appear on the general election ballot.
On the Tuesday
following the first Monday of November in years divisible by four,
the people in each State cast their ballots for the party slate
of Electors representing their choice for president and vice president
(although as a matter of practice, general election ballots normally
say "Electors for" each set of candidates rather than
list the individual Electors on each slate).
Voting booth handle.
Photo Credit: Monroe County, New York
party slate wins the most popular votes in the State becomes that
State's Electors-so that, in effect, whichever presidential ticket
gets the most popular votes in a State wins all the Electors of
that State. [The two exceptions to this are Maine and Nebraska where
two Electors are chosen by statewide popular vote and the remainder
by the popular vote within each Congressional district].
On the Monday
following the second Wednesday of December (as established in Federal
law) each State's Electors meet in their respective State capitals
and cast their electoral votes-one for president and one for vice
to prevent Electors from voting only for "favorite sons"
of their home State, at least one of their votes must be for a person
from outside their State (though this is seldom a problem since
the parties have consistently nominated presidential and vice presidential
candidates from different States).
votes are then sealed and transmitted from each State to the President
of the Senate who, on the following January 6, opens and reads them
before both houses of the Congress.
for president with the most electoral votes, provided that it is
an absolute majority (one over half of the total), is declared president.
Similarly, the vice presidential candidate with the absolute majority
of electoral votes is declared vice president.
In the event
no one obtains an absolute majority of electoral votes for president,
the U.S. House of
Representatives (as the chamber closest to the people) selects
the president from among the top three contenders with each State
casting only one vote and an absolute majority of the States being
required to elect. Similarly, if no one obtains an absolute majority
for vice president, then the U.S.
Senate makes the selection from among the top two contenders
for that office.
At noon on
20, the duly elected president and vice president are sworn
President Barack Obama takes the oath of office to serve as 44th President of the United States.
Occasionally questions arise about what would happen if the presidential
or vice presidential candidate died at some point in this process.
For answers to these, as well as to a number of other "what
if" questions, readers are advised to consult a small volume
the People Vote: Steps in Choosing the President edited by Walter
Berns and published in 1983 by the American Enterprise Institute.
Similarly, further details on the history and current functioning
of the Electoral College are available in the second edition of
Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, a real goldmine of information,
maps, and statistics.
If you are over 18 and want to become a part of the process, register
to vote today at: http://www.fec.gov/votregis/vr.shtml