September 14, 2008

How POTUS arrives at the White House

On November 04, 2008 no one in the United States electorate will vote for either McCain or Obama.

The new president finds his way to the White House thanks to the Electoral College, not the unwashed voting masses. The plebs, the ordinary Americans, only vote for electors.

The American Electoral College

There are six steps to America's Electoral College picking a president by proxy:

: Each state gets a number of electors equal to its number of U.S. representatives (which is proportional to its population), plus its number of U.S. senators (which is two).

Two: Before the popular election, the candidates supply election officials in each state with lists of people pledged to support them. These people are, in effect, candidates for the Electoral College.

Three: On election day, voters cast ballots for the slate of electors in their state that has pledged to support their preferred presidential candidate.

Four: The slate of electors that gets the most votes in a particular state wins all of that state's Electoral College spots, except in Maine and Nebraska, where two electors are chosen by statewide vote and tallies within congressional districts decide the rest.

Five: On the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the selected electors meet in their state capitals and cast votes for the president and vice president. At least one of their votes must be for a candidate not from their home state (one reason the two candidates on party tickets never call the same state home). Then they ship their ballots off to the president of the U.S. Senate.

Six: On January 6, the president of the Senate reads the Electoral College votes before both houses of Congress. As long as one candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes (that's half the total, plus one or more), that candidate is declared president. If no candidate receives an absolute majority, the U.S. House of Representatives chooses the president from the top three contenders.

Why is it so?

The Electoral College was born during the final days of America's Constitutional Convention, when the country's creators alighted on a presidential selection process that neatly negotiated some of the thorniest issues they faced at that time.

The framers had to balance the concerns of small states against those of larger ones. And a direct popular vote would have favored the big states like Virginia over those of small states like Connecticut.

Also, national campaigns would have been extremely difficult in 1787. The country simply didn't have means of transportation and communication to support political campaigns in the way we know them today. Besides, the founders didn't like the idea of campaigning in any case, believing that "the office should seek the man," not vice versa. Some - believe it or not - even doubted the average voter's ability to make a smart choice.

The Collegiate Solution

The Electoral College was a compromise.

To address big-state versus small-state issues, the framers built on their previous compromise regarding the design of Congress, giving each state a number of electors equal to its number of representatives plus its number of senators.

To hedge against home-state favoritism, they ruled that one vote per elector had to go to an out-of-state candidate.

To maintain a balance of power between federal and state governments, they allowed the states to determine for themselves how to choose their electors.

The founders never imagined how the system would develop, especially after the emergence of political parties. They had hoped an Electoral College, consisting of each state's best and brightest, would simply convene and choose the best man for the job, with no need for anything as degrading as political campaigning.

Truly, that's what they thought!

Now if that's not worth a snirtle, a sniggle, a smirk and s snort, nothing is!


  1. Anonymous9:21 PM

    And after all that they elect a moron.

    Way to go...

  2. Anonymous9:22 PM

    I wonder if they can do it again.

  3. It's the process that matters, not the outcome.

    (Well, that's how it works in big business. *Shrug*)

  4. Indeed. Can't have the great unwashed having a direct say in who becomes prez.

    Those genteel landed and monied oligarchs needed some check in the system.

    Much argument over the nature of one's demcracy there was. There were those who favoured the more direct route and then there were those - the majority - who approved of a more indirect democracy. Those of the former were thinking of Periclean Athens models (power to the people) and the later of the Roman Republic (real power to the landed and moneied class that populated the senate).

    A check of the Washington architecture is a big clue as to who won.

  5. We settle for so little, don't we Father, then boast of our great democracies like kiddies arguing over the best cartoon show.

    Yes: I'm suddenly feeling a tad cynical.

    Beats all other forms of government by the proverbial bee's dick - just.

  6. A tad cynical indeed. And definitely worth a snirtle.

    Parties, as such, were not thought of as you say (though there was a "Federalist" party if I recall). They have become the lightening rod for the bane of all politics: monetary donations and quid pro quo.

    The College was indeed to populated by those educated and monied individuals of the gentry. Whereas the unwashed might have a say it was the genteel who would directly decide. It's quite ironic that the college has (going from memory) only "decided" three times (against the popular vote): When Jackson was done over (1824?); when Tilden was done over (1876) and when Dubbya triumphed.

    Interesting that they adopted the federalist league notion of the Greeks (Boeotin League, Achean League, etc). Individual states essentially governing themselves and submitting foriegn policy to the "central" government.

    The home of states' rights...

  7. To throw in a bitter and twisted scowl Father, which just crossed my brow: "independent" candidates - ooh, aah, how dreadfully excited we get when an independent wins a seat, validation and proof that democracy WORKS. Like getting excited about finding a grain of sand hidden on the beach.

    Without parties, it suddenly occurs to this little pea brain, the will of the people would be more accurately captured and reflected with every parliamentary vote every law and policy. If our representatives were all independents, all the cream of the crop who had to woo their local constituents, the true voice of the people would eek - or squeak - through more often. Which is how democracy was almost conceived in the first place, except for the whole male (washed) with money criteria.

    I must be getting old Father, as I long ago accepted our form of democracy as "whatever" ... but now ... jeez, we could do so much better.

  8. Father Park: Turnball.

    What do yer reckon'?

  9. Well, I think Turnbull may give 'em all a bit of a shake.

    He is right when he basically says we should be talking up Australia's economy.

    Confidence is very important if you want to secure overseas investors.

    Swan and Rudd have tended to be a bit gloomy in that regard.

    A big part of the share market after all is about perception.

    Once a company has had a bit of bad press the short sellers move in and take them down.

    Just as is happening now with Babcock and Brown.

    Bastard short sellers have been instrumental in the demise of many a company.
    Why the fuck short selling is tolerated is beyond me!

  10. I agree with you Kath: confidence is all. That will not carry us through this though. Well may we denigrate the bears and their runners. Fact is, the US investment banks well knew what they were writing up with this bullshit money. And bullshit money it was: it never existed. They deserve what is visited upon them.

    The US fed bail them all out? Get real. The US is in debt up to and beyond its eye-balls into the next generation. The world thought that the money jocks of the eighties were arseholes. They had nothing on that quintessential new century man: the investment banker.

    I wrote on Harry’s site last year that I’d attended a mate’s fiftieth and had met a bloke (Pom) who recruited for the financial sector. His view of “Keating’s recession” I wrote up as I did his view of what was coming due to the financial strife then (Aug/07) in the US. As I recall the words were something along the lines of “what you see now will be nothing compared to next year: there is a huge fallout to come”.

    It’ll be in Harry’s archives or Jacob’s: trust me.

    The world will recover though – eventually – trust me. Even if, in the meantime, it’s all Kev’s fault.

  11. Oh Caz, you are a dreamer aren’t you?

    If our representatives were all independents, all the cream of the crop who had to woo their local constituents, the true voice of the people would eek - or squeak - through more often. Which is how democracy was almost conceived in the first place, except for the whole male (washed) with money criteria.

    And I’d agree – especially with the “whole male (washed)” version of sufferance.

    As I intimated earlier, one could wax lyrical over the benefits of direct Athenian democracy. This where the average Joe – as long as he was a Joe and not an abbreviated Joanne – could front on “assembly” days and vote for or against any policy motion. A state where, like ours, citizens were paid to adjudicate in courts and execute other state functions including voting in the assembly (by the end).

    Several of the founding fathers of “American democracy” decided that a model of democracy that had voted to execute Socrates in 400 BCE was not a good model. The fact that it had, by then, already condemned and executed seven of its ten (the others had the uncommon good sense not to sail home) victorious generals of the great naval victory of Arginusae (failure to pick up the wounded and dead after the battle in the middle of a severe storm) and put the entire male population of Melos to the sword might have swayed them against “direct” democracy.

    I admit to a sneaking admiration for Athenian democracy, misogyny aside.

    I must be getting old Father, as I long ago accepted our form of democracy as "whatever" ... but now ... jeez, we could do so much better.

    And I think my response might be in my last line above. How to do it though?
    Apologies for the AncHist dissertation. For those who know it’s a history in a paragraph; and those not interested a bore.

    Turn-my-balls? Least Nelson had the bottle. As I remarked (often) about Costello: no balls: you never test the numbers, you never know. Costello will disappear into utter irrelevancy never knowing.

    Turn-my-balls knows. He won. He has more money that the “average” “working family” will ever see in sixty years of recovery from this stock market debacle. Will they buy him? Not sure. He’s an arrogant arse. Worse: he’s rich.

    His mouth is like a seventeen year old’s dick: given opportunity it might just fuck him.

  12. Love it or hate it, that's the way we elect a president. Why are you all getting so torqed about it? It's not like it affects you directly...

  13. Cube - we don't directly elect our Prime Minister either, only his/her own electorate vote for them, and they are then, in turn, voted in as Prime Minister only by their own elected party members. My comments on this post were actually about Australian democracy, which bears little resemblance to the US system - the spirit, intent, and outcome is the same though.

  14. BTW - US Federal gov't affects every person on earth directly.

    It would be preferable if that wasn't true, but it's the way it is.