This spring marks the start of the 2012 Presidential election campaign. In early April, President Barack Obama announced his reelection bid for the White House. Tonight, May 5, the first official GOP Presidential debate will take place in South Carolina. America’s electoral system is quite unique and often quite confusing. Although our country is frequently described as a democracy, the US is a republic: a system of governance where citizens determine who will hold office. The President is selected by the people in each of the states through a system known as the Electoral College.

Throughout America’s 235 years, the Electoral College has been subject to various stresses and controversies and most elections go off without a hitch. The system was designed by James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and though the spirit of Wilson’s system survives today, the Electoral College has been subjected to revisions as problems arose (most prominently the 12th Amendment). As part of our Presidents & the Constitution curriculum, the Institute created a video explaining the history of America’s electoral system.

As we head forth into this election season, be sure to use this video to help equip your students with a proper understanding of the history, benefits, and shortcomings of America’s electoral system. Does the Electoral College create a democratic process that respects both the people and the states? What are some ways the system could be improved, if at all?

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One Response to “Electing the President”

  1. oldgulph says:

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives already agree that, at most, only 14 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Candidates will not care about at least 72% of the voters- voters-in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. 2012 campaigning would be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    Since World War II, a shift of a handful of votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 Million votes.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). Then, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, along district lines (as has been the case in Maine and Nebraska), or national lines.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support is strong among Republican voters, Democratic voters, and independent voters, as well as every demographic group surveyed in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%,, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, VT, and WA. These 8 jurisdictions possess 77 electoral votes — 29% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

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