Ask the Experts

Ask the Experts: How does the Electoral College work?

Jensen Stidham | Contributing Photographer

President-elect Donald Trump has won 290 Electoral College in the election. Syracuse University experts say their party loyalty would not likely change.

The Electoral College has been called into question by some following the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton as president of the United States. Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes, but Trump won more than the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency.

The results of the Electoral College will not become official until later this year, which has led some to speculate that Clinton could still win the presidency.

The Daily Orange spoke with Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs professors Margaret Susan Thompson and Kristi Andersen about the Electoral College and its fate.

The Daily Orange: When does the Electoral College meet to make their results become final?

Margaret Susan Thompson: Dec. 19. It always (takes this long). I think it used to be that some of these rules go back to when transportation and communication were less easy than they are now. It also gives times for recounts.

Kristi Andersen: It doesn’t really meet together, the electors of a state meet that day. Then they send it to Congress. It’s not a big issue usually, but it will be a big issue this year with talk of electors going with Clinton instead of Trump.

The D.O.: Why does the process take so long?

M.S.T.: It doesn’t take that long, but the date is set up before the election. The date was set a while ago. And they’re still counting. In some states they don’t even count absentee ballots until they become decisive. We know the outcome on election night more or less, but we don’t know the exact figures. And that’s why Hillary Clinton’s margins have been going up since election night.

K.A.: I suspect that if you look at the Constitution, that the time is probably specified because at that time, both counting and all the electors of Virginia to get to the capital of Virginia on horseback … that took awhile for that to happen.

The D.O.: What exactly does the Electoral College do?

M.S.T.: When you’re voting for a candidate, you’re not voting for that candidate, you’re voting for a slate of electors to vote for that candidate.

K.A.: It was initially a deliberative body in the individual states. The constitution drafters were afraid of direct democracy.

Once political parties came into being and they could run national campaigns, it took on the shape they have now. The key thing is this winner-take-all part of it. So if Donald Trump wins a state by one vote, he gets all the electoral votes of that state. And essentially when you’re voting in New York state for a candidate, you’re really voting for 29 people who will vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

The D.O.: Why are some people still claiming Clinton could win?

M.S.T.: I think they’re just doing wishful thinking as much as anything. Most states have laws that require the electoral vote to go the way that the popular vote in that state actually went.

Now the question becomes can people be persuaded to become faithless electors. … A faithless elector is a voter for the person that doesn’t represent their party.

The D.O.: Why is there some pushback against the Electoral College?

K.A.: I think that people believe it was a structure that suited the politics of 1790 but it no longer is appropriate today. I think most people feel that we should have direct election of the president; the popular vote should determine who is president.

The Electoral College gives the voters from small rural states more power. Their votes are worth more than ours in New York. Our vote is less powerful and less meaningful here in New York.

The D.O.: What is the likelihood of the system being changed?

K.A.: I think it’s unlikely, because Donald Trump electors are Donald Trump supporters typically. It would have to be a change of heart. Typically electors are party activists or legislators, so this is a part of their livelihood.

M.S.T.: I think (the likelihood) is slim. I think it’s a very hard thing to accomplish. I’m not predicting one way or another. I’m saying it would be very, very hard. However, it could happen, it’s not impossible.

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