For all those who remember the 2000 presidential elections between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Gore won the popular vote (meaning more Americans voted for him than Bush) and Bush still emerged victorious from the presidential election. How did that happen? How is it that the person with the most votes loses? Welcome to the exciting world of Electoral Votes.
Electoral Votes map for 2012/2016/2020 Presidential Elections
(Image Source: Wikipedia)
What are Electoral Votes?
Electoral Votes are the votes each state gets dependent upon the number of Senators and Representatives a state has, which is dependent upon population size of that state. In total there are 538 Electoral Votes divided up among the 50 States and Washington D.C. A candidate must receive a majority of at least 270 votes to become President, and in the event of no candidate receiving a clear majority (such as if there were 3 or 4 candidates running) then the House of Representatives votes to determine who is the winner. And the Electoral Votes within most states are similar to the presidential race itself in that if a candidate wins by only a narrow margin they get all the votes within that states due to our First-Past the Post or Winner Takes All voting system.
Why do we use Electoral votes?
First of all it is important to remember that the United States of America is not a democracy in the true sense of the word, we are a Republic which has become more equal to a representative democracy as we vote for people to represent our interests for us. Additionally when the founding fathers were writing the constitution they perceived a problem with a direct democracy. If one were to read what Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers one would learn that Electoral Votes were designed to help preserve “the sense of the people,” and ensuring that the president is elected “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” In short, the founding fathers did not trust the American people to determine the best suitable candidate for President, so they created the posting of Electors to vote for us.
What is an Elector?
When a person goes to vote for a presidential candidate on a ballot in their state, they are actually voting for an elector. An Elector is a person who does not hold any political office or government office whom is very loyal to their political party, appointed by the parties themselves. According to Article II Section 1 of the US Constitution an Elector is a person who is appointed to cast their votes for president. Once appointed an elector then pledges to vote for a specific candidate (generally democrats for democrat, republican for republican, etc.). There are laws in place in 24 states ensure an Elector votes for who they pledge to, but they can change their mind and therefore become a faithless elector and subject to punishment under the law after they had already changed their vote (no faithless elector has ever been punished to date and it does happen rarely).
The Electoral Votes/College system was one of many systems created be the founding fathers to limit the extent of direct democracy. Other such systems were banning slaves were banned from voting and when they eventually were allowed it was only the men, and they were only valued as 3/5ths of a vote until the 14th amendment abolished that rule. Women were also unable to vote as well until the 19th amendment allowed women the right to vote. Electoral votes are the remains of system that sought to limit direct democracy existing in a nation that is moving closer towards it. Today we have the technology and the means to directly elect a president so that there will never again be a president elected whom was not the will of the majority.
 Federal Election Commission, 2000 Presidential Popular Vote Summary (Gore 48.38%, Bush 47.87%). Online at: http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/fe2000/prespop.htm. Accessed on: 2 April 2012
 National Archive and Records Administration, 2000 Electoral Vote Totals (Gore 266, Bush 271). Online at: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/votes/2000.html. Accessed on: 2 April 2012
 US Constitution Article II Section I Clause 2. Online at: http://www.house.gov/house/Constitution/Constitution.html. Accessed on: 2 April 2012
 National Archive and Records Administration. Frequently Asked Questions. Online at: http://www. archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/votes/2000.html. Accessed on: 2 April 2012
 Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist No. 68.” The Federalist Papers . Online at: http://thomas.loc. gov/home/histdox/fed_68.html. Accessed on: 2 April 2012.
 ABC News (6 Jan, 2006). How Does the Electoral College Work? Online at: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2004/story?id=199823&page=1. Accessed on: 2 April 2012.
 US Constitution Article II Section I. Online at: http://www.house.gov/house/Constitution/Constitution.html. Accessed on: 2 April 2012
 US Constitution Amendment XII (12th ). Online at: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution _amendments_11-27.html. Accessed on: 2 April 2012.
 Fact Check.Org. (11 Feb 2008). The Reason For the Electoral College. Online At: http://factcheck.org/2008/02/ the-reason-for-the-electoral-college/. Accessed on: 2 April 2012