The electoral college: History, methodology and Idaho's role–past, present and future
Visit the Electoral College and you’ll find neither buildings nor quadrangles. Instead, you’ll discover a 225-year-old system for electing a president. Video by IdahoOnYourSide.comvideo
Visit the Electoral College and you’ll find neither buildings nor quadrangles. Instead, you’ll discover a 225-year-old system for electing a president.
“I believe in the Electoral College,” Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said. “I believe in the wisdom of the founders when they put this republic together.”
Those men convened at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Neither Butch Otter nor this building nor the state of Idaho yet existed. Initially, our nation’s leaders agreed to let congress elect the president, but after much deliberation they came up with what we today call the Electoral College.
The U.S. Census tells us the population of each state. With those populations, we determine how many representatives each state requires in our nation’s congress.
Add together America’s representatives, senators and the three electors from the District of Columbia and you get the total number of electors: 538.
Voters then vote, wait on the tally of all the votes in their district and then expect their individual elector to cast an electoral vote reflecting that of the majority of his constituency.
But our laws allow for electors to go rogue. Technically, his district could reelect Pres. Obama and Mike Simpson could cast his one electoral vote in favor of Mitt Romney. That said, no faithless elector – as they’re called – has ever altered an election’s result.
Now, if no candidate receives the majority of the electoral votes (270 or more), the decision moves to the U.S. House of Representatives. There, each state gets one vote its house delegation must decide how to spend. The decision stays in the house until one candidate receives 26 of the 50 available votes.
So, that’s the system we use to elect the leader of the free world. But do we like it?
“It works,” Ada County voter Tamir Quadree said. “It will continue to work. I’m sure it could use some tweaking, but all things could use some tweaking.”
“Until we figure out something better, yeah, I’m OK with it,” Ada County voter Valerie Delyea said.
“Think about it this way,” Otter said. “If we were to do away with the Electoral College and go just with the popular vote, eight cities in the United States could elect a president. What would Idaho mean then? Nothing.”
Ah, yes: the popular vote. The electoral college allows our nation to elect a president who received a fewer number of total votes – not electoral votes – than his opponent. And that’s the biggest argument for doing away with the Electoral College. But for this election – and the 56 before it – it’s what we’ve got.