Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Civics Lesson: Who Elects the Electors?

Last night I was having dinner with friends, and as smart and informed as we all fancy ourselves to be, none of us could come up with an answer to this seemingly easy question:

Who elects the electors??

We all know that we don't really elect the president, the electors do.

But besides that, we didn't have a clue! So this morning I set out to learn more. Figuring we aren't alone in our mystification about the issue, I thought I'd share it with you.

How electors select the President
When you vote for a candidate, you're really voting for the electors pledged to vote for that candidate. In all states besides Maine and Nebraska, it's a winner-take-all situation, so whomever wins the popular vote gets all their party's electoral votes (barring any rogue activity by faithless electors...).

The electors are a group of 538 citizens who comprise the Electoral College. To win the Presidency, a candidate needs 270 electoral votes -- that's the magic number, 270.

Electoral Bingo
You can download a blank map with current electoral vote numbers like the one pictured above. Then on election night, you can play electoral bingo by filling in red or blue as each state goes to McCain or Obama and add up the numbers. Or use this handy dandy electoral calculator. When someone gets 270 votes, voila, the President!

Electoral Mechanics
According to the education materials on the National Archive's website on the topic...

"Each state is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives."

So, New York State, which as 29 house reps, has 31 electors. The site continues...

"The process for selecting electors varies throughout the United States. Generally, the political parties nominate electors at their State party conventions or by a vote of the party's central committee in each State."

To find our more about rules in your particular state, click here.

"Electors are often selected to recognize their service and dedication to their political party. They may be State-elected officials, party leaders, or persons who have a personal or political affiliation with the Presidential candidate."

So, there's the answer: NOBODY elects the electors.
They are essentially selected by the party machine.

How Electors Vote

Again from the National Archive's site: After electors are chosen, "Then the voters in each State choose the electors on the day of the general election. The electors' names may or may not appear on the ballot below the name of the candidates running for President, depending on the procedure in each State."

Soon after the Nov. 4 general election, each state must submit a Certificate of Ascertainment which lists the names of the electors chosen by the voters and the number of votes received.

On Dec. 15, each state holds the Meeting of Electors to deal with any problems or issues.

On Dec. 24, each state prepares and distributes the Certificate of Vote which lists all persons who received electoral votes for President and the number of electors who voted for each person.

On Jan. 6, Congress counts the electoral votes.

On Jan. 20, the new President is inaugurated.

Who are the electors this year?
Finding the names of the actual electors before the election is pretty hard -- in fact I can't find them anywhere online. But after the election the names become a matter of public record, and maybe will be found here after Nov. 4. Here's a list of the electors from the 2004 election. It is quite fascinating.

How are electors different from delegates?
Ummmm, I don't know. That's a topic for next primary season!

Don't forget to vote for your electors on Nov. 4! Class dismissed!

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.


littlerabbit said...

The whole thing still sounds very complicated. So, besides Maine and Nebraska, say Obama wins the popular vote. New York's
democratic electors will have to vote for Obama, but NY's republican
electors, what do they do?

Greenjeans said...

The republican electors do nothing.

As I understand it, when you vote for, say, Obama, you are really voting for the 31 electors who have pledged to vote for Obama.

The 31 electors who pledged to vote for McCain don't get to do anything unless McCain wins the popular vote.

That is to say, only the electors from the party that wins the popular vote get to cast their electoral votes. The electors from the party that does NOT win don't get to do anything. Except the ones in Maine and Nebraska.