The New International Encyclopædia/Electoral College
ELECTORAL COLLEGE. In the political system of the United States, the body of electors in each State who have been chosen to select the President and Vice-President. The expression does not appear in the Constitution or statutes, but is a popular designation of the electors, adopted by analogy to the college of cardinals, to which the choice of the popes is committed. It is sometimes employed of the whole body of electors for President and Vice-President, chosen by all the States. The Constitution prescribes (Art. II.; and Amendments, Art. XII.) the number of electors and the manner in which they shall exercise their high functions, but leaves to the States the mode of appointing them, and to Congress the power to determine a uniform time for choosing them and the day on which they shall give their votes. Accordingly, the members of the electoral college in each and every State are chosen simultaneously by popular vote on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November. Their number is equal to the whole number of Representatives which the State sends to both branches of Congress. They are required to meet at some place designated by the Legislature of their State on the second Monday in January, and then and there to vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, of whom one, at least, shall not be a resident of the same State with themselves. Each electoral college then makes a list of the names of all its candidates for President and Vice-President, with the number of votes for each; the list is signed and certified by every member of the college, is authenticated by the Governor of the State, and transmitted to the President of the Senate of the United States. On the second Wednesday in February the electoral votes are opened and counted in presence of both Houses of Congress, assembled in the chamber of Representatives, and the result is announced by the president of the Senate. The persons who receive the highest number of votes, respectively, for the offices of President and Vice-President are declared elected, provided they have received a majority of all the votes. In case of a tie, the House of Representatives, voting by States, each State having one vote, is to choose between the equal candidates for President, a majority of all the States being necessary to a choice. The Senate has the power to choose in case of a tie in the vote for Vice-President. In the same way, in case there is no tie, but the leading candidates fail to receive a majority of all the votes, the election for President is thrown into the House, and that for Vice-President into the Senate. Under the Constitution as originally framed the electoral colleges did not designate their choice for President or Vice-President, but when the total votes were counted by the President of the Senate, the candidate receiviHg the highest number of votes was declared to be elected President, and his nearest competitor Vice-President. But the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1804, changed the mode of voting for the two officers, the electors being required to vote separately for President and Vice-President.
The present position and functions of the electoral college furnish a striking illustration of the way in which a written and stable constitution may be undermined and amended by the silent process of customary observanoe. It is obvious that the Constitution contemplates that the electoral college in each State shall be a deliberative body of men, freely exercising an untrammeled choice for the high offices which they are to fill. They are not called upon, nor are they expected, to vote as a unit, still less to meet for the sole purpose of registering a result which has already been reached elsewhere and by others. That this remarkable change in the conception of the constitutional functions of the electoral college has been brought about is due to the course of our political development, and particularly to the national convention system of nominating candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency. These conventions are not recognized by the Constitution, nor have their nominations any legally binding force. But the electors, subsequently nominated and elected for the sole purpose of giving the vote of the State to a certain party candidate, are as securely bound to that course of action by custom and honor as they would be by statute. The people, consequently, elect the President and Vice-President by States, and the college is a cumbrous machine for formally conveying to Washington the wishes of the majority. Since 1801 the vote of an elector has been known with certainty several weeks before it is cast, and several months before it is officially announced. The electoral system has constantly endangered the State, on account of the absence, until recently, of any general law to govern the president of the Senate in his canvass of the votes, and the tendency of Congress to decide every case of doubt or disputed returns arbitrarily as it arose. Nothing was accomplished, however, until 1887, when a law was passed (approved February 3) to cover the contingency of rival electoral colleges and disputed returns. Under the terms of this act, each State is conceded to have the right of determining all controversies or contests regarding the appointment of its own Presidential electors; and in ease of any such contest. Congress is to accept the State's settlement of the same as conclusive, and it cannot reject any electoral vote, duly certified, unless both Houses concurrently decide that that vote has been irregularly given. If more than one return from a State is received, only those votes are to be counted which the State itself has indorsed as regular; but if the State has been unable to settle the question, owing to its having two or more rival sets of authorities, or from any other cause, then the two Houses are to decide the dispute. See Constitution of the United States; Convention; President; and the authorities there referred to.