Voters in the U.S. go to the polls every four yours to elect the nation’s president as well as their vice president. However, when casting their ballots, voters do not pick the presidential election winner based solely on the national popular vote. What they do by casting this ballot is to help determine who their state’s Electoral College Delegates will support for the president and vice president. Therefore, a candidate may end up winning the popular vote nationally and still fail to win the presidency owing to a shortage of votes in the Electoral College, as was the case in 2016. Klepeis explains that the Electoral College has its basis in Article II Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution (10). This part of the Constitution was modified by the 12th Amendment in 1804, which set the current standards for the election of the president and vice-president through the Electoral College.
Electors in the Electoral College are usually party loyalists who are chosen by each that has fielded a presidential and vice-presidential candidate. These delegates are chosen at the state level. Each state is required to appoint, through whatever means the state legislature chooses, several delegates who are equal to the state’s combined total number of its Senate and House of Representatives delegations (Klepeis 12). For instance, the state of New York has 27 members in the U.S. House of Representatives and 2 senators. Therefore, its number of delegates in the Electoral College should be 29. The District of Columbia has 3 delegates. These delegates are elected by popular vote during party primaries or during the party conventions. Currently, there are a total of 538 Electoral College slates. To win an election, a candidate needs to garner at least 270 Electoral College votes.
Forty-eight states use the same criteria to allocate delegates to the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The candidate who wins the popular vote in these states is allocated the total number of Electoral College votes in each of those states. Maine and Nebraska use different criteria. Their delegates vote as per the outcome of the popular vote in each Congressional district. They then spare two delegates who vote according to the outcome of the statewide popular vote. Generally speaking, any adult can be elected or nominated as a delegate to the Electoral College. The only two exceptions are people holding federal office or those who have previously conspired against the U.S. government (Klepeis 14). Despite its name, the Electoral College never really sits as a group to cast their ballots. However, the Constitution requires electors from each state to assemble in their respective states on the Monday after the second Wednesday of December to cast their ballots (Klepeis 14). Afterward, the Electoral College ceases to exist until the next presidential election.
Presidential campaign strategies and tactics are, to a large extent, determined by the composition of the Electoral College. According to Belenky, the Electoral College determines two aspects of presidential election strategies. These are the amount of financial resources to be employed and the number of visits a candidate makes to a particular state. For instance, presidential candidates can decide to make as many visits as possible to states with more delegates, such as Florida and California. Apart from making numerous campaign visits to battleground states, candidates also seek to pour substantial financial resources into these states to pass their message.
Presidential campaigns also invest time and money in states where they think their message will resonate with residents of those states. In 2016, candidate Trump’s campaign invested time and money in states where businesses were struggling and blue-collar workers disenchanted with established politicians. The Democrats invested time and money in states where the Republicans had antagonized immigrant communities, such as Florida. Both campaigns spent millions of dollars on paid advertisements in these states.
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Belenky, Alexander S. Who Will Be the Next President? A Guide to the U.S. Presidential Election System. Springer International Publishing, 2016.
Klepeis, Alicia. Understanding the Electoral College. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2018.