Fort Report:The Electoral College

Dec 16, 2016
Fort Report

The Electoral College is not a place to study politics. There are no grades, no classes, and no professors. It is not a mystical place of academic tradition. While we tend to think of the presidential election as a matter of vote totals, by our law it is the men and women of the Electoral College who place the final mark and create the final tally. It is worth tracing the history of this system.

Although we speak of our country as a “democracy,” we actually live in a republic. In the Federalist Papers - the documents that publicly argued for the ratification of our Constitution – the now suddenly popular Alexander Hamilton (writing under the nom de plume Publius) was concerned that big cities and states would dominate the election process. He and other first leaders opposed selecting Presidents and Vice-Presidents by means of “direct,” or popular, vote because it would give inordinate influence to large-population states like New York at the expense of smaller, but no less important, states like New Hampshire.

The electoral system ensures that candidates campaign in many more states than they would in a direct election system. The total number of electors, not the total number of popular votes, defines the outcome. With the complexity of our system, it is understandable that there is confusion on this point. Since we are now in the heart of bowl season (with Nebraska taking on Tennessee in next Friday’s Music City Bowl), prioritizing popular vote totals is like prioritizing yardage as the defining metric in a football game. As we Cornhusker faithful well know, a team can win a football game even if the opponent has five times more passing, rushing and return yards. If the Presidential election were only about getting the most popular votes, a candidate’s strategy would be to run up the popular vote score in large media markets, while punting low-population states like Nebraska.

Along with Maine, Nebraska is unique in its method of selecting the President and Vice-President. Our electors are not apportioned in a winner-take-all fashion, but by the Congressional District Method. We award the winner of each of our three congressional districts with one electoral vote. The statewide popular vote winner is awarded the state's remaining two electoral votes.

One of the responsibilities I have as a member of Congress is to choose “the elector,” the person who will cast the vote for President and Vice-President in the Electoral College on behalf of Nebraska’s First Congressional District. For this election, I called upon someone that I have known and respected a long time, who resides in one of our prominent small towns.

Upon learning of my decision, he essentially responded, “Congressman, you sure you want me to do this? Don’t you want someone more qualified? Who am I?” I replied, “That’s why you’re qualified. You have done your duty to your community, to your business, to your employees, to your family. You have participated in the governing affairs of the state as a dutiful citizen. You’re exactly qualified.”

That spirit of humility, integrity, and service is what defines not only an elector, but also a Nebraskan. 

This coming Monday, my carefully chosen elector for Nebraska’s First District will carry forward the spirit of our system by exercising the duty to vote for Nebraska’s choice for President and Vice-President. This act of humble service, with all its symbolic value, will continue our nation’s most important and enduring civic tradition. For this reason, the Electoral College remains a cornerstone of our uniquely American style of governance.