Monday January 7, 2008 is the 219th anniversary of a momentous, though almost forgotten event. On this day in 1789, America''s first presidential election was held when voters cast ballots to choose their state’s electors. As anticipated, George Washington won the day and was sworn into office on April 30 of that year.
Many American voters are unaware of the Electoral College’s role in presidential politics, in part because they mistakenly believe they directly elect the president. Actually, as in the beginning, the United States still uses the basic electoral system that was established by our Constitution, which now gives all American citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote for electors. The electors then vote for the presidential candidate who received the greatest number of votes in their state. The Electoral College simply ratifies the results of each state’s popular vote.
Our founding fathers created the Electoral College system as part of an ingenious plan to share power between the states and the national government. Under the presidential election system outlined in the US Constitution, the overall popular vote has no legal significance. That is because, as a republic, we do not elect a president by a national vote. The presidential election is decided by the combined results of 51 state elections, as in 1961 Washington DC was awarded electoral status. Still, the individual citizen''s vote is extremely important to the outcome of each state’s election. At the present time, the total number of electors is 538 and a majority of 270 electoral votes are necessary for election to the presidency.
Many of our country’s founders did not trust the concept of creating a simple democracy. The representatives from the smaller states had little doubt that only favorite sons from the most populist states would ever be elected. The Electoral College system assigns a number of votes to each state, as well as the District of Columbia. This is equal to the number of Senators and Representatives in each state, while DC gets 3 votes. The “winner takes all” system awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the greatest number of statewide popular votes. Conversely, this means that a candidate who finishes second by a narrow margin gets no electoral votes at all.
The original idea of the “College of Electors” for choosing the president came from the Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals’ process for selecting a Pope. The basic structure of the Electoral College can be traced to the “Centurial Assembly” system of the Roman Republic. Thus, the similarities between the Electoral College and these institutions are not accidental, as many of the framers of the Constitution were well versed in classical history.
I have heard at least 100 times that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but I have yet to hear a single report that George W. Bush won 30 states. The day after that election, Hillary Clinton said “…we should seriously look at abolishing the Electoral College.” Fortunately, abolishing the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment. Given that, 20 of the 50 states have six or fewer electoral votes, it is unlikely any of them will support such an amendment, especially since 38 states will be needed for ratification. Imperfect as it may seem to those who have not yet thought it through, the present system continues to protect the less populated states from the tyranny of majority rule.
So, when someone from Georgia, Arkansas, South Dakota, or even Tennessee has a real opportunity to become President of the United States of America, it is important that we remember it is the Electoral College that provides it. Henry Piarrot is a lodging manager in SevierCounty, TN. Please send all story recommendations to email@example.com