US presidential vote: electoral college explained

US presidential vote: electoral college explained

16th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

The 2000 US presidential election highlighted one of the most unusual aspects of American politics...

The president is selected, not by popular vote, but via a complicated 18th-century formula known as the Electoral College.  It's not surprising that many people around the globe don't understand how this electoral system works. But according to Charles Franklin, Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, many Americans are just as clueless as to how it operates as people elsewhere.
Uncle Sam
In an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Professor Franklin explains how the Electoral College works:

"Each state gets two electoral votes for its two Senators, and then one Electoral College vote for each of its members of the House of Representatives. So, for example, in Wisconsin, my home state, we have eight members of the House of Representatives plus two Senators, so Wisconsin has ten electoral votes."
There are 538 members of the electoral college in total and a candidate must earn 270 of their votes in order to win the presidential election.
Winner takes all
On Election Day, each state holds its own presidential vote. Professor Franklin explains how the winner is determined:
"In effect what happens is that each state awards its electoral votes to the winner of the state. And in all but two states, that is awarded on a winner takes all basis, rather than a proportional basis. 

So, if someone wins Wisconsin, whether they win it by a tenth of a percent or by 10 percent, that candidate gets all 10 electoral votes from here."
                   RealClearPolitics Electoral College
Exceptions to the rule
The two exceptions to this rule are Maine and Nebraska, where the number of electoral college members - known as electors - is apportioned by constituencies known as Congressional districts. As such, it is possible for a candidate to receive some of the electoral votes in either of these two states, even if they lose the overall popular vote there.
Professor Charles Franklin photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison
To complicate matters further, the individuals chosen to be electors do not have to abide by the popular vote in their state. Technically, they still have the freedom to select the candidate of their choice. In practice, however, no election has ever been affected by this loophole and, as Professor Franklin points out, there have only been rare cases of "faithless electors."
Photo left: Professor Charles Franklin explains how the Electoral College work (photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison) 
Popular vote
Given the complexities of the Electoral College system, there are some who question its efficacy as a way of choosing a president. 

Such questions became especially pressing in 2000 when Al Gore failed to win the presidency despite winning the overall popular vote. Nevertheless, Professor Franklin is not convinced that the system needs to be changed.
                        US Presidential Election - photo Flickr by labnol 
"Only twice in US history has the popular vote winner not received the Electoral College victory. And so it is very unusual not to get agreement between the two [...] It has to be admitted that in 2000, when we did see this discrepancy, there weren't riots in the streets and there weren't really strong movements to over turn the Electoral College."
Davion Ford

Radio Netherlands
In the run up to the election, Expatica offers a daily selection of stories, editorials and videos causing a buzz in the US: Election '08: What's hot

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