The Black Box: The Electoral College

Voting booths in polling place
Voting booths in polling place

Article II Section 1 of the Constitution describes the strange process of electors choosing the President.

The legislature of each State appoints the same quantity of electors as the number of Congressmen (House Representatives plus Senators) in the manner each State sees fit. Since there are 435 members in the House and 100 Senators, plus three electors from D.C., the total number of electors is 538. Generally, the electors are party leaders, persons who have ties with the presidential candidates or State elected officials. Theoretically, Americans are supposed to be choosing the electors, but have you ever been asked to select an elector to represent all the voters in your area? Hurdle number one is that the elector is already hand-picked by one or the other party.

In a perfect world, electors vote based on the majority's wishes for their geographical area. However, thanks to gerrymandering, the process whereby district borders have been carved out so that it's guaranteed to swing either Republican or Democrat, many voters feel as though they'll never be represented. Hurdle number two is that electors' districts have been rigged to favor a specific party.

And the last hurdle is the "faithless elector." That's the elector who refuses to vote for the people's preferred candidate, regardless of the majority winner. If an elector sees that the third option won but the vote is close, will he choose the people's candidate, or his party's candidate?

Finally, after all the electors have cast their ballot, if there is no clear winner with at least 270 electoral votes, a scary scenario may happen. It's called a "contingent election," the details of which are found in the 12th Amendment. If the electoral votes are split three ways, then the House of Representatives chooses our next President. Each State casts one vote for President (and the winner is the one who receives at least 26 votes). For Vice President, each Senator votes for one of the top two VP electoral vote-getters, with the winner decided by obtaining at least 51 votes.

The 12th Amendment does not specify whether it's the outgoing House or the newly elected House that determines the President. However, the contingent election is likely to be held on January 6th, after the new members take (or return to) their offices. If the present Congress is called upon to conduct the vote, our past will come back to haunt us because the citizens who voted in 2014's midterms, the smallest percentage of voters since 1942, who selected today's GOP-led Congress, have a crack at disappointing the majority of citizens by choosing the next President for us.

Ultimately, we need to use our people power to abolish the electoral college and replace it with direct popular election of the President. Until that happens, Americans would need to organize their support to back a third option. The third option needs to be so popular, the winner so undeniable, that the electors must give the people whom they want for President!

Today's post is part four of a six-part series on voting, found in Chapter 30 of In Search of the Next POTUS: One Woman's Quest to Fix Washington, a True Story. Follow this blog to receive the last two segments of this article.