Lecture March 17, 2008 Marty Irwin

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A Historical Overview of the American Election Process – How Our Country Elects its President The American Revolution: Salutary Neglect – Many historians believe this to be the underlying cause of the American Revolution. In response to what the British Government called the “Coercive Acts, which the American colonists promptly dubbed “Intolerable Acts,” public demonstrations against the policies of King George III were becoming more common and more violent. King George did not plan to start a war. He thought that he was laying down a set of strict laws in order to bring the rowdy colonists under control (who were after all his subjects). The Coercive Acts/Intolerable Acts started a chain reaction of events, which put King George III and the American colonists on a collision course, a course that would not only change British history, but one that would change world history, as well. King George upset New England businessmen by shutting down Boston Harbor. For those in the import-export business, their income stream was suddenly disrupted. First Continental Congress: In response to Britain’s actions, colonists assembled what today is referred to as the First Continental Congress. This was a meeting held in Philadelphia in September 1774, where 56 delegates from the various colonies met. The purpose was not revolution. It was to draft a set of colonial rights that could be sent off to the King. Two important decisions came out of the First Continental Congress: 1. that the colonists should have the right to run their own affairs. 2. that if the British used force against the colonies, the colonies should fight back. Lexington and Concord: In the spring of 1775, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord, in Massachusetts. By this time, the political ideas of English philosopher John Locke and American Colonist Thomas Paine were on the lips of many business-class men from New York to Boston.

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John Locke: Locke was born in 1632 and died in 1704, at the age of 72. Two of his key ideas that caught the attention of the colonists: 1. natural unalienable rights of life, liberty, and property. 2. that society is based upon a social contract. a. This means that people allow themselves to be governed, so long as the government protects the unalienable rights of the people. Thomas Paine: After the events of Lexington and Concord, Thomas Paine wrote a 50-page pamphlet titled Common Sense. In it he states that independence would enable American colonists to create a better society; one free of tyranny, and one with equal economic opportunities for all. In 1776, Common Sense sold close to 500,000 copies. Declaration of Independence: On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and the fight for independence was on. Fighting between the British and the colonists continued until British General George Cornwallis was forced to surrender, in October of 1781. Establishing a First Government: Americans were now set to govern themselves. There was a fear however, of placing the new government directly into the hands of a largely uneducated population. As the result, the United States was based upon the concept of a republic, which roughly translates into “representative democracy.” Second Continental Congress: A second congress convened to outline the structure of the new government. This new plan of government was called the Articles of Confederation. It went into effect in March 1781. Articles of Confederation: The Articles established a government in which each state would have one vote on national issues. One sticky issue had to do with governmental power. Initially, the states viewed themselves as independent sovereign states who were voluntarily working together in a loose confederation. As the result, the Articles of Confederation did not allow the central government to have much power over the states. Federalism: Ultimately this lack of central government power was viewed as a weakness. As the result, delegates drafted a new plan of government that was based upon two important ideas: www.mirwin.weebly.com page 2 of 8

1. Dividing governmental power between the states and the central government. 2. Having two governmental systems working concurrently; the government of the U.S. and the governments of the individual states. a. This system of shared power between the central government and the individual states is called federalism. b. Our presidential election system was conceived out of federalism. The U.S. Constitution: By September of 1787, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention had finished their work by drafting a new Constitution that was: 1. based upon federalism. 2. had 3 branches of government clearly defined. 3. included a systems of checks and balances. 4. included a method of electing a president that was based up on an electoral college.* *the electoral college was a safeguard against uneducated masses making uninformed political decisions and choices. The Electoral College: The delegates of the Constitutional Convention were afraid to put too much power into the hands of the public. They originally discussed the idea that only Congress should elect the president of the U.S. A compromise was made on this issue. As the result, each state would be granted a number of electors equal to the number of senators and representatives it had in Congress. Our Bicameral Legislature: Built into the Constitution, under Article 1, it is specified that each state shall have 2 U.S. Senators and the number of U.S. Representatives that each state shall have is to be based upon a population formula. At the time of presidential elections, each state would choose representatives to act as electors, who would then cast ballots for presidential candidates. *This is important because it clearly indicates that under federalism, each state would be holding its own independent election…an example of the sovereign power and authority of the states.

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*After the state elections, the central government would in turn, tally up the electoral votes and declare the winner based upon the instructions found in Article I of the Constitution. *This is an excellent example of federalism in practice…the presidential election is a process that is shared between the states and the central government. America’s First President: In 1789, when George Washington became our nation’s first president, he wrote in his diary that he: “set out for New York…with the best intentions to render service to my country in obedience to its call…” Now this says a lot about Mr. Washington. He says that he has the best intentions to serve his country. He does not say anything like “wow, now I can further the strength of my political party!” When George Washington became our first president, he claimed no political party affiliation. He is the only president in American history to claim no political party affiliation. His idea was simply that “I am going to do the best job that I can to run the country.” Absent from his mind were thoughts like “by the time I leave office, I want to make sure that I have packed the Supreme Court with people who have the same political ideology as me.” He was simply trying to be the best president possible. Just like today, in 2008, different political philosophies existed in 1789. Within Washington’s own cabinet he had Thomas Jefferson as his Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton, as his Secretary of Treasury. These two men were as opposite as could be in regard to their political philosophies: 1. Jefferson distrusted the rich and he distrusted the idea of a strong central government as well. Jefferson was a proponent of strong state governments. 2. Hamilton, on the other hand believed that the U.S. should have a strong central government, run by the prosperous educated upper-class of society. Political Parties: Based upon certain portions of the Constitution, one might conclude that the framers of the Constitution believed that those who would seek the office of president would be apolitical, like Washington. I say this because originally, the Constitution stated that during a presidential election, the candidate with the largest number of electoral votes would become president (this is detailed in Article II, Section1). www.mirwin.weebly.com page 4 of 8

And The candidate with the second largest number of electoral votes would become vice president (this also is detailed in Article II, Section1). . In our second presidential election, the election of 1796, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson ran against each other for president Adams received 71 electoral votes and Jefferson received 68. Because of our Constitutional instructions, we ended up with John Adams, a Federalist, as our second President, coupled with Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, as Vice President. Election of 1800: The unexpected outcome of the election of 1796, where two men of different political parties were elected president and vice president, got people wondering if maybe the Constitution should be modified, but no action was taken. During the Election of 1800, another unexpected outcome occurred. Adams and Jefferson had squared off against each other again for the office of president. Keeping in mind once again, that Adams was a Federalist and Jefferson was a DemocraticRepublican, when the electoral votes were counted, Jefferson had defeated Adams by eight electoral votes. By this time, the idea of running mates had surfaced, and each candidate had a vice presidential running mate. Jefferson’s running mate was Aaron Burr, and even though people knew Jefferson was the Democratic-Republican presidential candidate and Burr was the Democratic-Republican vice presidential candidate, they each ended up with the same number of electoral votes (73). Neither could become president until a vote in the House of Representatives would break the tie. Ultimately, the House voted in favor of Jefferson, and he was able to become our nation’s third president, with Burr as his vice president. The Original Electoral College: Alexander Hamilton is credited as the one who came up with the idea of the Electoral College method of electing the president. The existence of an electoral college is written right into the Constitution, in Article II, Section 1. The original idea was that if congressmen only, were the ones to vote for president, members of congress might end up with too much political power and control. The Electoral College was seen as a solution to this problem. Under Hamilton’s vision of an Electoral College, at election time, “electors would meet in their own states and cast votes for two presidential candidates. There would be no popular vote of the public. The electoral votes would then be counted in a joint-session of congress, and the candidate receiving the most electoral votes would become the next president. The person with the second highest www.mirwin.weebly.com page 5 of 8

number of electoral votes would become vice president. In case of a tie, the House of Representatives would break the tie. Twelfth Amendment: The events of the elections of 1796 and 1800 caused the Constitution to be changed by the ratification of 12th Amendment in 1804. Since 1804, the Constitution has stated that persons running for president are to be identified as such and that persons running for the office of vice president are to be identified as such. This marks the birth of the “party ticket” as we know it today. The Impact of Political Parties: By 1800, two strong political parties had emerged, and from then on, America has really been a two party system (even though other parties have existed, and other parties still do exist). Each of the two major parties began nominating their own candidates for president. Furthermore, in each state, the major parties began to nominate candidates for to be their electors in each of the states. The Advent of State Elections: In the 1820s, states began to place presidential candidates on the ballot. Since then, political parties have chosen electors by popular vote. This adaptation is considered to have been a growth in democracy. The Electoral College System Today: The Electoral College is still the method of choosing the president and vice president. Political parties choose their nominees for president in conventions that are held in late summer of an election year. Voters cast their ballots for president every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. While the candidate’s names are printed on ballots, the voters are NOT actually voting directly for president and vice president. Rather they are voting for all of their party’s electors in their state. In December, these electors will cast the official vote for president and vice president. [This may seem confusing to students, so I should probably go over this one more time]. Today the Electoral College includes 538 electors. This is a number that is determined by the total number of House of Representative members and Senators, plus 3 electoral votes for the District of Columbia. Each state has as many electors as the total number of its U.S. representatives and senators. In order to be elected president, a candidate must receive a minimum of 270 of the 538 existing electoral votes.

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The Electoral College is a winner-take-all system, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska (who do it differently). Under the winner-take-all system, the candidate who receives the largest number of the popular votes in a state “takes” all the electoral votes of that state (as mentioned, Maine and Nebraska excluded). The Popular Vote Is Not Left Out: Some people might complain that under our Electoral College, the popular vote is left out, or that the will of the people is not heard. This is not necessarily true. On a state by state basis, the popular vote determines which candidate will receive the state’s available electoral votes. This is yet another example of federalism at work and an example of the sovereign power that each state holds within the United States. Technically Speaking: Today, with modern technology, we are able to announce who has been elected president in less than 24 hours! The speed at which we can know the results is partly due to the Electoral College. As soon as it is clear that a candidate has won a state, that state’s electoral votes are attributed to that candidate. From there, it is relatively easy to count the electoral vote results, state by state, until a candidate has hit or exceeded the 270 electoral vote mark. Formally Speaking: The formal election by the Electoral College begins on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December, when the electors meet in each state capital and actually cast their electoral ballots. The electoral ballots from each state are then sealed and mailed to the president of the Senate for a formal count. On January 6 of the following year, both houses of congress meet in the House of Representatives to open and count the ballots. Congress then officially declares the winner president. Variations On A Theme: Most states do not legally require electors to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote, but electors usually do. In past elections, even though a particular candidate has “won” the state, there have been cases in which an elector has cast his/her vote for a different candidate. This has not happened often, or on a large scale. Pros and Cons Of The Electoral College: 1. The winner-take-all system makes it possible for a candidate who loses the overall popular vote of the nation, to win the overall electoral vote, and thus become president. 2. A strong “Third Party” candidate could win enough electoral votes to prevent either major-party candidates from receiving a majority of the electoral votes. This could cause no candidate to obtain the 270 electoral votes needed to be

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elected president. Should this occur, the outcome of the election would have to be decided by congress. 3. Some say, why not go to a direct popular election? This would diminish the political power that the states have. It is unlikely that any state, let alone all of the states, would be willing to give up power in order to bring this about. 4. Supporters of the Electoral College believe that the system forces a candidate to have to win a large number of states in order to get elected. People of this philosophy believe that our current Electoral College system is good for America, overall.

NOTES TO SELF FOR FUTURE: *I should include an explanation of the difference between state elections & state caucuses? * I should include an explanation of “Super Delegates.” * I should cite the elections in which a candidate was declared president without having won the popular vote.

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