Exploration 6: The Electoral College

U.S. Presidents are elected under a system known as the Electoral College. Instead of a single, national election in which the candidate with the highest number of popular (or people’s) votes wins, it is actually 51 separate elections (all the states plus the District of Columbia). Each state has a number of electoral votes equal to the number of Representatives and Senators representing it in Congress. The winning candidate must get a majority of these electoral votes (currently 270) to become President. Within the vast majority of the states, the winner of the popular vote wins ALL of that state’s electoral votes. For example, even if Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) beats Donald Trump by a single vote out of millions cast in New York—essentially it’s a tie—Clinton (or Sanders) gets all of New York’s electoral votes and Trump gets nothing. Normally, the winner of the nationwide popular vote is also the winner of the electoral vote, but it is possible (as in 2000 and, most recently, 2016) for the candidate with fewer of the people’s votes to win the Presidency. (Note that in the 2000 election the most serious problem was that Bush was awarded Florida’s electoral votes even though, in all likelihood, Gore would have won the popular vote in that state if the votes had been counted accurately. If Gore had won Florida, he would have been President.) What are the advantages and disadvantages of electing presidents in this way? Why do you think the nation’s founders set it up this way? How likely are we to change the Electoral College? Why?

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