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OPINION: The Electoral College

Tina Hager

Tina Hager


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The recent run for the presidency between Mr. Donald J. Trump and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended on Tuesday, November 8, in an unexpected win for Mr. Trump. However, according to Fox News, the popular vote was with Secretary Clinton. Since the results of the election were released, there have been protests across the country against Mr. Trump. Though the majority of the populace voted for Secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump is America’s rightful president.

The reason for Mr. Trump’s legitimacy as president hails back to the writers of the Constitution, who, in Article II, Section I of the document, laid out the duties of people called Electors. Electors were meant to directly choose the next President of the United States. Though this Constitutional article was amended in 1803-1804 by Congress, this part of their job did not change. The Twelfth Amendment, which concerns the Electoral College, states that “The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President…the person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed…” (1) At the present time, the required majority of votes is 270, a number just over half of the Electors. (The total today is 538.) However, though the Electoral College directly elects the next President, that doesn’t mean that the everyday American citizen has no influence on the results of the election.

Information from the official website of the National Archives and Records Administration (2) explains the Electoral College as it stands today as well as the influence that each American voter has on both the Electoral College and the Presidential election. In essence, the process looks like this:

  1. For every state, there are groups of Electors assigned by political parties to their presidential candidate. For example, in the 2016 election, the Republican party in Texas chose certain people to be Texas Electors for Mr. Trump in Texas; the Democratic party in Texas also chose certain people to be Texas Electors for Secretary Clinton.
  2. Election Day arrives and American citizens vote for the President. However, what many people don’t realize is that they are also voting for the Electors assigned to that particular candidate.
  3. “The winning Presidential candidate’s slate of potential Electors are appointed as the state’s Electors—except in Nebraska and Maine…” (3)
  4. These winning Electors are the ones who vote for the next president on behalf of their state. The Archives website states that “Today, it is rare for Electors to disregard the popular vote by casting their electoral vote for someone other than their party’s candidate.” (4) Depending on state policies, Electors are sometimes obliged to vote for the candidate who won the vote of the populace in that state. 26 out of 51 states (Washington, DC, is counted as a state for this purpose) have these policies.
  5. Though the election results are unofficially known soon after Election Day, the candidate is not actually voted for by the Electors until December after Election Day, when the Electors assemble. Electoral College voting in 2016 is scheduled for the 19th of December.
  6. The votes are sent to and tallied by Congress, who view them on January 6th after Election Day. The official result of the election is known after the counting.

If the Electors don’t meet until December, how does America know in November what the results of the Presidential Election are? For example, in the 2016 General Election, America knew on November 9th – the day after Election Day – that Mr. Trump had won over 270 Electoral votes and therefore was the President-elect of the United States.

In reality, results of General Elections can change. It’s possible, but highly improbable. The Electors who aren’t obligated by promises or state law are allowed to vote as they please, but as stated above, the National Archives website says that it is unusual that the Electors would vote against their party’s candidate, perhaps because the Electors are chosen by a party on the basis of being a member of that party.

The Electoral College is complicated, to say the least, but since it decides the results of each General Election the information is important to know, in particular because the result of the 2016 General Election was decided against the popular vote. This discrepancy between the Electoral vote and the popular vote can happen because “[e]lectoral votes are awarded on the basis of the popular vote in each state,” not according to the assimilated results. (5)

Though Mr. Trump is the rightful President-elect, there have been multiple protests across the country against Mr. Trump. The citizens of America, according to the First Amendment, have a right to free speech. However, this right does not cover any outbreaks of violence, and therefore any violent movements against Mr. Trump are not justified.

Opinions will always differ, especially in a country the size of America, but when the Electoral College meets in December to officially elect Mr. Trump as the President of the United States, no one can reasonably say that the College’s decision is unjustified. After all, the decisions of the people themselves influence who is in the Electoral College, and by extension, who sits in the Oval Office.

Click here for resources on the Electoral College.

Footnotes:

(1) “The Constitution: Amendments 11-27.” United States of America. National Archives. 16 November 2016. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/amendments-11-27#12

(2) https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html#restrictions

(3) “U. S. Electoral College: Who Are the Electors? How Do They Vote?” National Archives and Records Administration.” archives.gov. 19 November 2016.

(4) “U. S. Electoral College: Who Are the Electors? How Do They Vote?” National Archives and Records Administration. archives.gov. 19 November 2016.

(5) “U. S. Electoral College: Frequently Asked Questions.” National Archives and Records Administration. archives.gov. 19 November 2016. https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/faq.html

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OPINION: The Electoral College