Tuesday, 25 October 2016

America's Presidential Election System Explained

In the upcoming November election, Americans will have their say in who they would like to see as the next US President - but the November election alone doesn't directly decide who the next President will actually be. There's more to the process than that.

Whichever candidate wins the majority of votes in the November election, usually does end-up becoming the President - but not always. It has happened a few times that the candidate who won the majority of votes in the November election, didn't end-up becoming the President.

Here's what happens. After the November election, there will be another smaller election in December, in which 538 electors (a certain quota from each State) will vote. It is these electors (called the Electoral College) - rather than the general public - who directly determine which of the candidates will end-up presiding over Congress - becoming the President.

The quota of electors from each State is different for each State - it's a number equalling the number of members of Congress the State is allocated, which is proportional to its population, plus two Senators.

How these electors from each State are selected, is up to each State to freely legislate. But in most States, with the exception of a couple of States, it works something like this:

Prior to the November election, each major political party in each State pre-selects individuals as potential electors in the December election. Then whichever party's Presidential nominee wins the majority of votes in each State in the November election, his or her party gets to put forward the full quota of electors for that State in the December election.

Each party's electors are pledged to vote for their party's nominee. Some States require each elector to be faithful to their pledge, by law - others don't.

Only a couple of States have slightly different rules to that, regarding how the November election informs who end-up becoming their State's electors. In one such State it can even happen that electors come from more than one party in the same State.

All of these electors from all the States then vote, in December - and whichever candidate wins an absolute majority of the Electoral College's votes - 270 out of 538 - is appointed as the President.

If an absolute majority is not reached, there are rules which determine the procedure until a President is chosen.

It usually ends-up being the same candidate who won the popular majority nationwide, in the November election (because of the way the States have legislated to allow the results of the November election to impact on their choice of electors in the Electoral College which votes in December, and because the electors are usually pledged to a particular candidate).

Therefore it's usually possible to tell who the next President will be, soon after November's general election, before the Electoral College's vote in December. But not always!

This electoral system ensures that a candidate must appeal to the whole of America in order to win the Presidency, not just to States with higher populations.

It vests the choice, not entirely with the popular majority (which could result in democratic bullying by a stronger, though not necessarily better majority, over a weaker, though not necessarily morally-inferior few), nor exclusively with the influential elites or political establishment (which could result in tyranny) - but balances the choice between all.

It also makes voter-fraud more difficult - since the ultimate result of the Presidential election can't be determined just by a simple majority in any given State, but by a nationwide balance.

Other built-in protections in the American political system:

Two chambers of congress: the Senate and the House of Representatives;

Mid-term elections - giving voters the ability to adjust the balance of power within congress mid-term, potentially limiting the ability of a wayward President-elect from pursuing his own will;

Separation of powers between the legislature, judiciary and executive;

Plus of course: the separate powers of the individual States from the Federal government.

Each of these components of the system were designed by the founders to prevent absolute power from ever ending-up with an individual, or with a group - even if through democracy. Lest democracy ever become the destruction of itself.

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