(Image: Paul Ryan on the right and Donald Trump on the left both looking in the same direction)
How did we get the Electoral College?
The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.
However, the term “electoral college” does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to “electors,” but not to the “electoral college.”
Since the Electoral College process is part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution it would be necessary to pass a Constitutional amendment to change this system.
Note that the 12th Amendment, the expansion of voting rights, and the use of the popular vote in the States as the vehicle for selecting electors has substantially changed the process.
Many different proposals to alter the Presidential election process have been offered over the years, such as direct nation-wide election by the People, but none have been passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification as a Constitutional amendment.
Under the most common method for amending the Constitution, an amendment must be proposed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the States.
How is it possible for the electoral vote to produce a different result than the nation-wide popular vote?
It is important to remember that the President is not chosen by a nation-wide popular vote.
The Electoral College vote totals determine the winner, not the statistical plurality or majority a candidate may have in the nation-wide popular vote totals.
Electoral votes are awarded on the basis of the popular vote in each state.
Note that 48 out of the 50 States award Electoral votes on a winner-takes-all basis (as does the District of Columbia).
For example, all 55 of California’s Electoral votes go to the winner of the state election, even if the margin of victory is only 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.
In a multi-candidate race where candidates have strong regional appeal, as in 1824, it is quite possible that a candidate who collects the most votes on a nation-wide basis will not win the electoral vote.
In a two-candidate race, that is less likely to occur. But, it did occur in the Hayes/Tilden election of 1876 and the Harrison/Cleveland election of 1888 due to the statistical disparity between vote totals in individual state elections and the national vote totals.
This also occurred in the 2000 presidential election, where George W. Bush received fewer popular votes than Albert Gore Jr., but received a majority of electoral votes.
What happens if no presidential candidate gets 270 Electoral votes?
If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes.
Each state delegation has one vote.
The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President.
If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.