PROVIDENCE, R.I. — So you’ll head to the voting table Tuesday and fill in the line next to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein or Rocky De La Fuente. You’ll have voted for president.
Well, not really.
And you can thank the Founding Fathers and their Electoral College.
When you vote for president, you don’t really vote for president. You vote for your candidate’s ‘electors,’ the people who will elect the president. Across the country, each state will be electing presidential electors instead of the actual candidates and those electors will meet on Dec. 19 in their respective states to cast their ballots for president. The ballots will be sent to Washington D.C. , where, along with the votes of electors from the other 49 states and the District of Columbia, they will be counted. And that is when the president is actually elected.
June S. Speakman, a professor of political science at Roger Williams University, said the system is a throwback to the 1780s, when the U.S. Constitution was being written, and the delegates to the constitutional convention were trying to cobble together a system that large and small states could accept.
The delegates were all well-off landowners, she said, interested in protecting property rights as well as democracy. They didn’t see electing a president as a job for the masses, she said. They wanted landed voters with an investment in the community making that decision.
“There were more poor people than rich people,” she said.
Altogether the Electoral College has 538 electors. Each state vote number equals the number of senators and representatives it sends to Congress. Rhode Island has two congressmen and two senators, so it gets four votes. California, with 53 congressional representatives and two senators, gets 55. Most states award their votes on a winner-takes-all basis, but Nebraska and Maine allocate theirs by congressional districts.
When the president-elect is declared on election night, it’s assumed that the electors from each state will follow the mandate of the elections in their states.
And most of the time, they do.
But not always. Last week Robert Satiacum, a Washington state elector and Bernie Sanders supporter, said he wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, even if she wins his state.
He’s not the first. According to Fairvote.org, history has had 157 ‘faithless electors.’ Some changed their votes because their candidate died before the Electoral College met and some abstained. But in 82 cases the electors acted on their own, such as Virginia’s entire delegation in the 1836 election, which voted against the vice president candidate their state voted for because he’d had a long-running affair with a slave.
Parties usually choose loyalists as electors to prevent them from going rogue.
Brandon Bell, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the state’s four Trump delegates are all members of the state party committee and have pledged to support their nominee.
Clay Pell, one of the state’s Clinton electors, was reached for comment while going door-to-door in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on Clinton’s behalf.
He said besides supporting his candidate, an elector gets to be part of history.
“It’s an absolute honor to be part of the constitutional process,” he said.
Posted on November 7, 2016 by John Hill