Electoral College Delegate Selection
Today, all 50 states still retain the constitutional right to choose presidential electoral delegates.
However, the existence of the presidential electors and the duties of the electoral college are so little noted in contemporary society that most American voters believe that they are voting directly for a President and Vice President on election day.
Although candidates for elector may be well known persons, such as governors, state legislators, or other state and local officials, they generally do not receive public recognition as electors.
In fact, in most states, the names of individual electors do not appear anywhere on the ballot; instead only those of the various candidates for President and Vice President appear, usually prefaced by the words “electors for.”
Moreover, electoral votes are commonly referred to as having “been awarded” to the winning candidate, as if no human beings were involved in the process.
The Electors: Ratifying the Voter’s Choice
Presidential electors in contemporary elections are expected, and, in many cases pledged, to vote for the candidates of the party that nominated them.
While there is evidence that the founders assumed the electors would be independent actors, weighing the merits of competing presidential candidates, they have been regarded as agents of the public will since the first decade under the Constitution.
They are expected to vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the party that nominated them.
Notwithstanding this expectation, individual electors have sometimes not honored their commitment, voting for a different candidate or candidates than the ones to whom they were pledged; they are known as “faithless” or “unfaithful” electors.
In fact, the balance of opinion by constitutional scholars is that, once electors have been chosen, they remain constitutionally free agents, able to vote for any candidate who meets the requirements for President and Vice President.
Faithless electors have been few in number (in the 20 century, one each in 1948, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1988, and 2000), and have never influenced the outcome of a presidential election.
Nominating Elector-Candidates: Diverse State Procedures
Nomination of elector-candidates is another of the many aspects of this system left to state and political party preferences.
Most states prescribe one of two methods: 34 states require that candidates for the office of presidential elector be nominated by state party conventions, while a further ten mandate nomination by the state party’s central committee.
The remaining states use a variety of methods, including nomination by the governor (on recommendation of party committees), by primary election, and by the party’s presidential nominee.
Joint Tickets: One Vote for President and Vice President
General election ballots, which are regulated by state election laws and authorities, offer voters joint candidacies for President and Vice President for each political party or other group.
Thus, voters cast a single vote for electors pledged to the joint ticket of the party they represent. They cannot effectively vote for a President from one party and a Vice President from another, unless their state provides for write-in votes.
The Electors Convene
The 12th Amendment requires electors to meet “in their respective states …” This provision was intended to deter manipulation of the election by having the state electoral colleges meet simultaneously, but keeping them separate.
Congress sets the date on which the electors meet, currently the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.
The electors almost always meet in the state capital, usually in the capitol building or state house itself.
They vote “by ballot” separately for President and Vice President (at least one of the candidates must be from another state). The results are then endorsed, and copies are sent to the Vice President (in his capacity as President of the Senate); the secretary of state of their state; the Archivist of the United States; and the judge of the federal district court of the district in which the electors met.
Having performed their constitutional duty, the electors adjourn, and the electoral college ceases to exist until the next presidential election.
Congress Counts and Certifies the Vote
The final step in the presidential election process (aside from the presidential inaugural on January 20) is the counting and certification of the electoral votes by Congress. The House of Representatives and Senate meet in joint session in the House chamber on January 6 of the year following the presidential election, at 1:00 pm.
The Vice President, who presides in his capacity as President of the Senate, opens the electoral vote certificates from each state, in alphabetical order. He then passes the certificates to four tellers (vote counters), two appointed by each house, who announce the results.
The votes are then counted, and the results are announced by the Vice President.
The candidates receiving a majority of electoral votes (currently 270 of 538) are declared the winners by the Vice President, an action that constitutes “a sufficient declaration of the persons. if any, elected President and Vice President of the States.”