A Brief Explanation of the Electoral College

This post has been improved upon and revised. Electoral College 101 - A Brief Explanation of the Electoral College.

It has been expressed in the comments to my post, McCain and Negative Ads, that the electoral college could vote for whoever they want to.

The electoral college really runs contrary to people who desire for a nationwide popular vote to decide the President. The battle against the electoral college is really about states' rights versus us being one federal state, although there are some lesser issues that are still pertinent. The reality is that the electoral college serves no role after the first vote, which many of the electors are committed to voting for their candidate and those that are not are strong party supporters chosen by the party, so they would not stray. If a candidate does not have a majority of the electoral vote after the electoral college votes, the President would be immediately decided by the House of Representatives.

Some have a great fear that the electoral college will steal the election from the people. That just does not seem to be the case. From MSNBC's website on the electoral college.

"In about half the states, electors are formally pledged—that is, they are legally committed to vote for the candidate of the party with which they are affiliated. In the remaining states, electors are “unpledged,” meaning that no explicit legal requirement exists to vote for the affiliated candidate. Still, even unpledged electors could face legal difficulties if they “faithlessly” voted for a candidate other than the one associated with their slate of electors. This is because the people of the state voted for that slate of electors with the reasonable expectation that those electors would loyally reflect the peoples’ choice. In fact, the problem of “faithless electors” has been more theoretical than real. About 20,000 electors voted in all presidential elections from 1789 to 2000, and fewer than a dozen voted faithlessly. The outcome of an election has never been changed by faithless electors—nevertheless, it could happen."

The electoral college system might not be the best thought out system in the world for a democracy but not due to elections being stolen by the electors. It will run into problems if a third or fourth party ever arises. In Europe, a multitude of parties run in a preliminary election followed by a final election in which the two highest vote getters run off against each other. I think that is preferable compared to a third party candidate causing the outgoing House of Representatives to choose the President. We have never had it happen, but it could. I would also like any change to the system that encouraged a third, fourth, and fifth party. Every political issue does not have two sides, and more parties create more constructive debate rather than the tit-for-tat we are wallowing in.

It is beneficial to keep an electoral system by state rather than a purely popular vote, or the President would be decided by a few major cities rather than the nation as a whole. We could get rid of the electoral college, but it appears to just be a formality that really has no bearing on what happens as long as we still weigh state votes rather than go by the national popular vote. In actuality, all the electoral college does is give some connected people to their respective partieis a free trip and get-together at their state capitols.

The main change that needs to happen is not the abolishment of the electoral college but the institution of a preliminary election, after each party has their primary, in which every party under the sun can run. Everyone can vote for whoever they want without "wasting" a vote. This would help move our nation away from party politics into issue politics. Again, I must emphasize that electoral system is still important. The preliminary election would be followed by the final election between the two people with the most votes in the preliminary election. This system would promote additional parties. This change will probably never happen, although it is normal election procedure in many nations around the world, until a crisis where the House of Representatives has to choose the President.