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The Electoral College, the indirect system by which the US president is elected

In the event of a tie, the House of Representatives would elect the president and the Senate the vice president

In the United States, contrary to what happens in the vast majority of the world’s democracies, it is not its citizens who elect the president but rather what they decide on November 3 is the person who will vote on their behalf for the tenant of the White House by virtue of a system devised by the ‘founding fathers’ of the country and enshrined in the Constitution.

Specifically, what they elect are the 538 delegates who make up the Electoral College. This number corresponds to the 435 members of the House of Representatives, the 100 members of the Senate, and the three delegates from the District of Columbia.

The total is spread across the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on population, according to the census. Each state has its own system for electing members of the Electoral College, although in general they are usually members of the state committee of each winning party. In no case may they be senior officials of the public administration or members of Congress or the Government.

Each of the delegates casts an electoral vote that must be for the most voted candidate in the state, except in the case of Nebraska and Maine, where the electoral vote is distributed according to the percentage of votes obtained by the candidates.

After the vote, the president of each state must issue a certificate declaring the winning candidate and including the names of the delegates who will represent him in the Electoral College, and forward it to Congress and the Archives of the Nation so that it remains in the official register.

The Electoral College meeting is held on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, that is, this time it will be on December 14. Actually, the delegates do not physically meet in the same place, but they do so in their respective states and cast their votes separately for the president and vice president.

These votes are sent immediately, in different copies, to the president of the Senate – and vice president of the country -, this document being the one that will be counted later, as well as to the National Archives and a district judge, among others. , so that if any of the votes is lost there may be a copy.

Finally, electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6 and chaired by the country’s vice president. It will be this, this time Mike Pence, the one in charge of announcing who has been elected president and vice president of the United States. The elected will take the oath of office on January 20.

The Constitution does not specify any procedure for their election, but in general they are usually people appointed by the party convention at the state level or by its state committee. Typically, they are people considered loyal to the party, including its leaders and elected officials. In fact, in some states her name appears on the ballot alongside those of the presidential and vice presidential candidate.

It goes without saying that these delegates must vote for their party’s candidate, but this has not always been the case. On several occasions there has been an unfair voter, as was the case in 1948, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1988, while in 2000 there was a blank vote. In 2016, there were seven delegates who stood out in the vote for the president and six who did so in the vice president.

In the case of the former, there were five Democrats and two Republicans. Three Democratic delegates from Washington voted for Republican Colin Powell, instead of Hillary Clinton, another from this same state did so for a female member of the Yankton Sioux, and another from Hawaii opted for Bernie Sanders. On the Republican side, a representative from Texas voted for John Kasich and another for libertarian Ron Paul, rather than Donald Trump.

To be elected president, at least the favorable votes of 270 delegates are necessary. It is possible that neither candidate will get a majority of the votes, so it should be Congress that would choose the president and vice president.

The House of Representatives would choose the president from among the three most voted candidates in a ballot in which each state delegation has the right to one vote, while the Senate would choose the vice president.

This situation has occurred so far on only two occasions and both were in the first years of the country’s history. In 1801 Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes – although Burr was running as vice president according to the system of the time – and 36 ballots were necessary until Congress elected the former.

In 1825 John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson also did not get a majority of the electoral votes. Ultimately, the House of Representatives elected Adams president despite the fact that Jackson had received more popular votes.

That is precisely one of the paradoxes of the American elections. A candidate can receive more votes from the citizens but not be elected president because he has fewer voters. This circumstance has occurred on four other occasions, in addition to 1825.

In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes won the almost unanimous support of the small states and was elected president despite the fact that Samuel J. Tilden obtained 264,000 more votes than he. In 1888 Benjamin Harrison prevailed against his rival Grover Cleveland, who had more votes.

Already in 2000, Republican candidate George W. Bush was elected with 271 electoral votes after being awarded the Florida delegates – by only 573 votes – after the result was challenged and a new recount despite the fact that Al Gore had achieved nearly 450,000 more popular votes across the country.

The most recent case has been that of Donald Trump himself, who in 2016 obtained fewer votes than his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, but ended up benefiting from this indirect election system. The Republican won 46.15% of the votes compared to 48.17% for the former Secretary of State.

In order to reform this election system, a constitutional amendment would be necessary, something difficult to achieve since it would require a ‘supermajority’ of states willing to change the rules and who would lose their power if the system were based only on popular votes.

According to Jeremy Mayer, associate professor at the Schar School of Politics and Government at George Mason University, the system was devised in this way to “avoid having a regional president, for example from the south, which could provoke a new war.”

Given that it benefits smaller states, it seems unlikely that they would agree to support it, the expert stresses. To be able to amend the Constitution requires the support of two-thirds of Congress as well as three-quarters of the 50 states. The last time this happened was in 1992, when the 27th Amendment was introduced.

However, it is a recurring debate in the United States. One of the solutions that has been sought is the National Popular Vote (NPV), an idea that would allow the Electoral College to be bypassed without amending the Constitution. What he proposes is that the state grant all its delegates to the candidate who has had the most votes in the whole country, even if at the state level his rival has won. For the proposal to go ahead, it would need to be backed by enough states to add at least the 270 necessary delegates.

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