Elec­tion Day is just the be­gin­ning of US elec­tions

The US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion doesn’t end when the polls close on 8 Novem­ber. Rather, it’s just get­ting started. Once the votes are counted, the state-by-state process kicks in. The Elec­toral Col­lege meets in midDe­cem­ber to vote, and Congress makes the res

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

Elec­tion Day

Most peo­ple who voted early or are head­ing to the polls on 8 Novem­ber think they will be vot­ing for Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton, Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump or their cho­sen third­party can­di­date. But they won’t be. They’ll be vot­ing for their state’s elec­tors, who will in turn cast votes for the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who wins the most votes in their state.

Each state has as many elec­toral votes as it has mem­bers of Congress. The Dis­trict of Columbia has an ad­di­tional three elec­tors.

So there are a to­tal of 538 elec­tors in the Elec­toral Col­lege. The over­all win­ner must take half of that plus one – or 270 elec­toral votes.

Power to the states

Elec­tors are cho­sen by each party, and typ­i­cally are party in­sid­ers who can be trusted to vote for their can­di­date. Mem­bers of Congress can’t be elec­tors, by law.

An elec­tor has only one duty – to elect a pres­i­dent.

While it may seem like a com­pli­cated sys­tem, the Elec­toral Col­lege was cre­ated by the 12th Amend­ment of the Con­sti­tu­tion to em­power the role of in­di­vid­ual states.

“It’s the states that de­cide who the pres­i­dent is and not the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion as a whole,” says Miriam Vin­cent, a staff at­tor­ney at the Na­tional Ar­chives, which acts as a li­ai­son be­tween the states and Congress dur­ing the Elec­toral Col­lege process.

19 De­cem­ber - the real Elec­tion Day

By law, the elec­tors must meet on the first Mon­day after the sec­ond Wed­nes­day in De­cem­ber. This year, that’s 19 De­cem­ber.

On that day, they gather in their re­spec­tive states to cast votes for pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent of the United States.

In al­most ev­ery state, the win­ner of the state’s pop­u­lar vote gets all of the state’s elec­tors. Maine and Ne­braska are ex­cep­tions, with rules that al­low elec­toral votes to be split be­tween par­ties un­der cer­tain sce­nar­ios.

There’s noth­ing in the Con­sti­tu­tion that says the elec­tors are re­quired to vote for a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date, and state laws vary. But ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Ar­chives, 99 per cent of elec­tors through US his­tory have voted for their party’s can­di­date, and none of the dis­senters – known as “faith­less elec­tors” – has ever changed the re­sult of an elec­tion.

Once the votes have taken place, each state sends its re­sults to Washington, where they are re­ceived by the Se­nate and the Na­tional Ar­chives.

Congress does a fi­nal count

Once the elec­toral bal­lot votes are re­ceived, they are counted in a joint ses­sion of Congress.

By law, this takes place on 6 Jan­uary. On that day, sen­a­tors as­sem­ble at 12:30pm and walk to­gether to the House cham­ber. They are led by two Se­nate pages car­ry­ing ma­hogany boxes that con­tain the elec­toral vote cer­tifi­cates sent by the states.

The House ses­sion is presided over by the cur­rent vice pres­i­dent. Oc­ca­sion­ally it’s an awk­ward sit­u­a­tion, as when Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore presided over the counting in the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and lost to Repub­li­can Ge­orge W. Bush.

At the ses­sion, the votes are ex­am­ined, tal­lied and handed to the vice pres­i­dent who an­nounces the re­sults.

What if it’s a tie?

If no pres­i­den­tial can­di­date re­ceives 270 or more elec­toral votes in the count, the 12th Amend­ment di­rects the House to de­cide the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Each state’s House del­e­ga­tion has one vote, and must pick from the top three can­di­dates who re­ceived the most elec­toral votes.

The Se­nate would use a sim­i­lar process to pick the vice pres­i­dent.

Is the sys­tem out­dated?

Over the years, there have been calls to do away with or re­form the com­plex Elec­toral Col­lege, es­pe­cially after the 2000 elec­tion when Gore won the pop­u­lar vote but lost to Bush, who had more elec­toral votes.

John Hu­dak, a fel­low in gover­nance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, says most peo­ple want the per­son who wins the pop­u­lar vote to be­come pres­i­dent. But re­form wouldn’t be easy be­cause it would re­quire an amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion that would have to be rat­i­fied by three­fourths of states.

Be­fore 2000, the most re­cent time a can­di­date lost de­spite win­ning the pop­u­lar vote was in 1888.

“2000 was a re­ally in­cred­i­ble ex­cep­tion,” Hu­dak says. “Gen­er­ally the Elec­toral Col­lege re­flects the pop­u­lar will.”

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