Magazine article Newsweek

What If They Both Win? the Delicate Constitutional Role of the Electoral College

Magazine article Newsweek

What If They Both Win? the Delicate Constitutional Role of the Electoral College

Article excerpt

Byline: Yuval Rosenberg

The framers of the Constitution knew the system wasn't perfect. In deciding the thorny question of how to elect a president, they were eager to strengthen state sovereignty and hesitant about letting popular will reign free. As a compromise, the Founders settled on our Electoral College system--a seemingly workable balance.

It hasn't always played out as expected. Often criticized and generally confusing, the Electoral College has given rise to wild scenarios--and it could do so again this year. If the presidential race remains tight, it's possible that Vice President Al Gore could lose the popular vote but win the Oval Office. Stranger still, it's conceivable that Gore and George W. Bush will finish tied in the electoral tally.

Those farfetched political-junkie fantasies could come true because of the structure of the system. Technically, votes cast on Election Day do not pick a president. Instead, they select "electors" who pledge support for a particular candidate. Each state is granted one elector per senator and House member. All but two states, Maine and Nebraska, use a winner-take-all method of doling out electoral votes. With 435 House members and 100 senators, plus three electors for the District of Columbia, the total number of electors stands at 538. A majority of 270 is needed for victory. In case no candidate reaches the magic number, the 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, dictates that the House select a president and the Senate a vice president.

The twisted possibilities have been played out before. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran on the same ticket and received 73 electoral votes each. …

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