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What does this mean in practice?
It means, as everyone has now learnedas learned that the popular vote does NOT mean that a candidate will win, in terms of the Presidential election. We were learned and were reminded in 2000 in the case of Gore v. Bush, that the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide does not necessarily become president. There is no national election for president, only separate state elections. So for a candidate to become president, he or she must win enough state elections to garner a majority of electoral votes. Presidential campaigns, therefore, focus on winning states, not on winning a national majority.
It also means that — at least in theory — electors can thwart the popular will and vote for a candidate not supported by the voters of their state. In practice, however, electors are pledged to cast their votes in accordance with the popular vote, and "faithless electors" who go against the popular vote are extremely rare. Had there been a faithless elector in 2000, however, Al Gore might have become president!
Each candidate running for President in your state has his or her own group of electors. The electors are generally chosen by the candidate’s political party, but state laws vary on how the electors are selected and what their responsibilities are.
The presidential election is held every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. You help choose your state’s electors when you vote for President because when you vote for your candidate you are actually voting for your candidate’s electors.
Most states have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the winning presidential candidate. However, Maine and Nebraska each have a variation of “proportional representation.”
After the presidential election, your governor prepares a “Certificate of Ascertainment” listing all of the candidates who ran for President in your state, along with the names of their respective electors. The Certificate of Ascertainment also declares the winning presidential candidate in your state and shows which electors will represent your state at the meeting of the electors in December of the election year. Your state’s Certificates of Ascertainments are sent to the Congress and the National Archives as part of the official records of the presidential election.
What is the Electoral College?
Don’t look for it on a map. Don’t try to schedule a tour of the campus or get tickets to a football game. The Electoral College is not a place. It's a process. It's a group of people with a very important job: officially elect the President of the United States. And when Americans vote for a President and Vice President, they are actually voting for presidential electors, known collectively as the Electoral College.
The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.
The Electoral College was created for two reasons. The first purpose was to create a buffer between the population and the selection of the President. The second reason was to balance the power between large and small states - based on their land and population sizes.
Most scholars and historians agree that the founding fathers were afraid of direct election to the Presidency by what we now refer to as the popular vote. And given their very recent experiences in England and the very reason they left and formed the United States - they had an understandable fear that a tyrant could manipulate public opinion and come to power.
What the Founding Founders Considered Before Settling on the Electoral College
The Founding Fathers held a Constitutional Convention and considered several possible methods of selecting a president.
One idea was to have the Congress choose the president. This idea was rejected because some felt that making such a choice would be too divisive an issue and leave too many hard feelings in the Congress. Others felt that such a procedure would invite unseemly political bargaining, corruption, and perhaps even interference from foreign powers. And some felt that it would upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
A second idea was to have the State legislatures select the president. This idea was also rejected. They feared that in this case, a president would be at-risk to become beholden to the State legislatures. As a result, that would erode federal authority and undermine the whole idea of a having a federation.
Was election by the popular vote ever a consideration?
Indeed it was. The third idea was to have the president elected by a direct popular vote. But direct election was rejected. Not because the Framers of the Constitution doubted public intelligence - but rather because they feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their State, people would naturally vote for a "favorite son" from their own State or region. And at worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous States with little regard for the smaller ones.
The Decision: A College of Electors
Finally, a so-called "Committee of Eleven" in the Constitutional Convention proposed an indirect election of the president through a College of Electors.
Alexander Hamilton and the other founders believed that the electors would be able to insure that only a qualified person becomes President. They believed that with the Electoral College no one would be able to manipulate the citizenry. The college would serve and act as check on an electorate that might be duped. Hamilton and the other founders did not trust the population to make the right choice. The founders also believed that the Electoral College had the advantage of being a group that met only once and thus could not be manipulated over time by foreign governments or others.
It is these electors, chosen by the people, who elect the chief executive. The Constitution assigns each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of the state’s Senate and House of Representatives delegations; at present, the number of electors per state ranges from three to 54, for a total of 538.
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Who Really Elects The President?
The Electoral College.
What it is. And Why It Matters.
The First Monday After the Second Wednesday
The meeting of the electors takes place on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December after the presidential election. The electors meet in their respective states, where they cast their votes for President and Vice President on separate ballots. Your state’s electors’ votes are recorded on a “Certificate of Vote,” which is prepared at the meeting by the electors. Your state’s Certificates of Votes are then sent to the Congress and the National Archives as part of the official records of the presidential election.
Each state’s electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress on the 6th of January in the year following the meeting of the electors. Members of the House and Senate meet in the House chamber to conduct the official tally of electoral votes.
The Vice President, as President of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results of the vote. The President of the Senate then declares which persons, if any, have been elected President and Vice President of the United States.
The President-Elect takes the oath of office and is sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th in the year following the Presidential election.
Roles and Responsibilities in the Electoral College Process
The Office of the Federal Register coordinates the functions of the Electoral College on behalf of the Archivist of the United States, the States, the Congress, and the American People. The Office of the Federal Register operates as an intermediary between the governors and secretaries of state of the States and the Congress. It also acts as a trusted agent of the Congress in the sense that it is responsible for reviewing the legal sufficiency of the certificates before the House and Senate accept them as evidence of official State action. The process of the Electoral College is now completed, and the winner then awaits inauguration to serve and hold the office of The President of The United States of America.
Under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution, the District of Columbia is allocated 3 electors and treated like a state for purposes of the Electoral College. For this reason, in the following discussion, the word “state” also refers to the District of Columbia.
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Your state’s entitled allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for your Senators.
How the Electoral College Works
This is where it gets sticky. The Electoral College is one of the more complicated parts of the American electoral process — or can be, at least, when things don't go smoothly. This guide will explain how the Electoral College works; discuss the origins and development of the Electoral College as some controversial elections; and examine how much your vote actually "weighs" in an election.
The people of the United States elect a president every four years, but not directly.
Here's how it works.
In November of a presidential election year, each state holds an election for president in which all eligible citizens may vote. Citizens vote for a "ticket" of candidates that includes a candidate for president and a candidate for vice president.
The outcome of the vote in each state determines a slate of electors who then, in turn, make the actual choice of president and vice president. Each state has as many electors as it has senators and members of the House of Representatives, for a total of 538. (The District of Columbia gets three electors even though it has no representation in Congress.)
In December, the electors meet in their respective state capitols to cast their ballots for president and vice president. States may or may not require their electors to vote with the popular majority, and they may or may not give all of their electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote.
These ballots are opened, counted, and certified by a joint session of Congress in January.
If no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes or if the top two candidates are tied, the House of Representatives select a president from among the top five candidates with the most votes. Each state's delegation has a single vote. The Senate selects a vice president by the same process. (This hasn't happened since 1876, but it almost happened in 2000.)
The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for President and Vice President, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.