Why Did They Think the Electoral College Was a Good Idea?

What is the Electoral College?

Thanks to our founding fathers, we use a system called The Electoral College to elect the President of the United States. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention thought it would be reckless to leave voting up to plain, ordinary citizens, but they didn’t trust Congress to handle it, either. So they came up with the idea of “electors” as a compromise. And they wrote it into the Constitution so it takes a Constitutional amendment to change it.

Story continues below

How does it work?

Each state gets the same number of electoral votes as they have members of Congress – U.S. Senators and Representatives combined. The states set the rules for choosing the electors who actually cast the vote. It’s winner-take-all in every state except Maine and Nebraska. In those two states the winner of the popular vote gets two votes and the rest of the votes can be split between the other candidates.

There are a total of 538 electors among the 50 states, including three votes for the District of Columbia. It takes a majority, 270 votes, to become President.

When do electors vote?

The Electoral College meets after the general election. Each state's electors head for their respective state capitols the Monday following the second Wednesday in December. At this meeting, the electors sign the "Certificate of Vote," which is sealed and delivered to the Office of the President of the U.S. Senate.

But the results still aren't official until the President of the Senate counts the votes at a special joint session of Congress held in early January .At this meeting, the President of the Senate reads the Certificates of Vote out loud and declares the official winner.

Do electors always follow the rules?

There have been times when electors voted for someone other than the candidate they were pledged to elect. These people are called “faithless electors.” It’s happened 157 times. There are laws to punish faithless electors but so far that’s never been done.

Sources: votesmart.org, ballotpedia.org, howstuffworks.com, usgovinfo.about.com

*clockwise starting upper right: Rutherford B. Hayes, George W. Bush, Benjamin Harrison, John Quincy Adams

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading