What is the Electoral College?
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Welcome back to Politics for People
We’re obsessed with the number 270 every election season but what does it mean once you get there? What happens next? And where the heck is the Electoral College even located?
If you have ever felt like the existence of the electoral college makes your vote less meaningful -- you are absolutely right.
IN FACT The electoral college was an invention of the founding fathers to create a buffer between what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the “well-meaning, but uninformed people,” and the actual selection of the president.
That's right America, even Thomas Jefferson thought we were too stupid to pick the president. But don’t feel bad, he seems to have thought most people were stupid since he owned some of them, decided to reinvent the clock, and rewrote the gospels.
So what did they give us?
Instead of electing the president via a straight up count of each ballot -- known as the popular vote -- the founders created a system where each state would select “electors” equal to the number of representatives in that state. In California for example, we have 55 votes in the electoral college, which is equal to the number of members of congress we have. 53 representatives, and 2 senators.
These electors then meet on the 14th of december to cast their votes for who they think should be president. This result then gets certified by the state and must be delivered to congress by december 23rd.
On January 3rd the new congress is sworn in and three days later on January 6th, they actually open the envelopes and announce the results.
*How do you become one of those electors? I don’t know, but my friend Ian Blue does and we’ll have a video later this week to talk about his experience as an elector in 2008.
There has been a lot of talk about reforming or even eliminating the electoral college.
Supporters of our current system argue that the founders created the electoral college with what Jefferson had in mind. That it is a buffer between the lesser impulses of the electorate and the office of the president. That this is the basic idea of our government in the first place. We are a Republic, which means we elect people to make decisions for us. We are not a Direct Democracy as a country, and the electoral college is an extension of that. The ONLY mechanism for choosing a president as dictated by the constitution is the electoral college. There is no mention at all of a popular vote.
Though this is the same group of people that said it was totally cool to count slaves as less than a whole person so...
Check out my state Propositions video above to learn more about ways we do flex direct democracy here in California.
Some argue that the founders created a system that is outdated for the realities of modern america. We know from records of the Constitutional Congress that the electoral college suffered from the ripple effects of the 3/5ths compromise which increased the power of slave states in congress and the electoral college. The fact that we don’t have slavery anymore seems like a big enough change to reconsider the system. That and that our country has gone from this Map of Population to this modern map and that shows how 50 percent of our population is concentrated in a small handful of regions.
There is even a cross state coalition to award each state’s electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide but it cannot take effect until the number of states that sign on equal 270 electoral votes.
I’m not here to argue for the abolishment of the electoral college, though most of you would probably be up for that since, 61 percent of people polled by Gallup in September and 58 percent in a Pew Research Center poll in March — believe it should be abolished.
The point here is this, I know that most of us are relieved that election day has passed and we are taking a national breather.
Unless you have Twitter. If you have twitter, you havent stopped hyperventilating since July.
But as long as we have our current system of presidential elections or until enough states sign on to the National Interstate Popular Vote Compact, the most important election in deciding our president, will be when the Electoral College meets on December 14.
Its not. Over. Yet.
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ABOUT POLITICS FOR PEOPLE
Breaking down the basics in government, politics, and civic engagement in ten minutes or less, or more.
Former High School Government Teacher and former House Oversight Committee and CA State Assembly staffer Jimmy Fremgen tries his best to make complicated concepts approachable.
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On bias at Politics 4 People
Politics for People is a series by me, Jimmy Fremgen, breaking down concepts of civics into little bite size chunks. Politics for People is intended to be an objective explanation of how concepts work but occasionally my bias creeps in since the concept of unbiased content is a total fallacy. I am mindful of this and try to base these videos around the fundamental belief that good government is based on the principle of caring about the people around us.
In an attempt to be transparent so that you can make up your own mind, I’ve created a video about my background and some of the issues that are important to me on my page.