The Presidential Election Process
The presidential election that has just taken place, electing the first African-American to the highest office in the nation and some say the world, turned out to be such a wide margin of victory for Barack Obama that there was no doubt as to the results. However, in the past, there have been arguments about the outcomes of presidential elections if not for the results of the elections themselves, but surely due to the process that is used to elect American presidents. In this essay, that process will be explained, its validity will be discussed, and overall, the process will be better understood.
How the Process Works
From the beginning, when the United States was established, the founders felt very strongly that the leaders of the nation would have to meet certain requirements. Because of this, the Constitution set forth important details of the qualities that the president would have to have in order to be elected. First, the most basic qualifications that an individual would have to have in order to even qualify to seek election to the presidency is that he/she would have to be at least 35 years of age, a native born citizen of the United States, and a resident of the country for at least 14 years (Hardaway, 1994). These qualifications addressed several details that were seen to be highly important for the preservation of the freedom and safety of the nation. With an age requirement, it was intended that a presidential candidate possess the level of maturity, life experience and training that would be needed to be a good president. The requirement of native birth to the US was intended to make sure that someone would not be elected who may have loyalty to another country, especially one that was an enemy of the United States, as then there would be a president in place who would possibly harm the country. Lastly, it was required for a certain amount of residency so that the candidate would have enough background information about the nation to serve it well.
With the details of the person in place, it was found necessary by the founders of the nation to come up with a process that would make sure that the common people would not be caught up in the possible false promises and lack of qualifications of a candidate and that a president would be elected who was able to effectively do the job. Therefore, the Constitution was written to specifically set up a way by which the voters would not actually be voting for an individual candidate, but rather to vote for electors who would most likely choose that candidate. This system has come to be known as the Electoral College (Bialek, 2007). This is not really a college at all, but actually a group of individuals who actually elect the president. Simply explained, here is how the presidential election process works: most of the states use a primary election in order to select delegates, but in other cases, conventions are used in order to choose the delegates. These delegates then go to national conventions, where they reveal the candidate of their political party. Every four years, as ordered by the Constitution, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month of November, the American people go to their local voting places to cast their ballots, or in certain situations, they are allowed to cast what is called an absentee ballot, a sort of voting by mail where the individual is allowed to vote without actually being in their local polling place on election day, which is very handy for those who work away from home, are serving elsewhere in the military, or may be too physically ill or frail to reach the local voting place in person. At any rate, as was said before, the American people vote for the president of their choice, but are really choosing the electors who will eventually cast votes for the president of the United States. Basically, each state in the nation receives a set number of Electoral College votes, based on the number of representatives that the state has in the House of Representatives, with smaller states of course having fewer votes than larger ones. Within the Electoral College system, a president is elected if he or she receives an absolute majority of the electoral votes cast. In the case of no majority being received, the House of Representatives selects the winner from the top three candidates. What can be fairly said is that in any case, the House of Representatives plays a pivotal role in the election of the president, either indirectly through the Electoral College or indirectly through a tie-breaking vote when the Electoral College fails to clearly elect a president (Schlesinger, 2002).
The People Still Have a Voice
The false impression that through the Electoral College, the American people do not have a say in who is elected president, needs to be explained further. While it remains true that the Electoral College can and has gone against the popular vote of the people in the past, such as in the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush, it is something that is quite rare. However, the right of the Electoral College to go against the popular vote exists to protect the nation against the election of an unqualified or outright dangerous candidate even if the common people fail to see these qualities in the candidate. Therefore, the Electoral College can be seen as a protector of the American government and people.
In conclusion, let it be understood that the presidential election process, while far from perfect, is designed with the best intentions of the nation and its people in mind.
Bialek, J. (2007, November/December). Refining the Electoral College. The Humanist, 67, 8+.
Hardaway, R. M. (1994). The Electoral College and the Constitution: The Case for Preserving Federalism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Schlesinger, A. M. (2002, March 25). Not the People’s Choice: How to Democratize American Democracy. The American Prospect, 13, 23+.