President Obama is expected to be sworn into office on January 20, 2013. I say expected because he has not won the election yet. The Electoral College vote will not be announced until January 6.
President Obama’s opponents have one last chance to win the election. For them this race is not yet over, they can hope for an unprecedented Electoral College vote. If the electors feel that the country made a mistake by reelecting Obama this is their last chance to fix it.
Given the latest breakdown in budget talks we could be heading for a long year. After the Tea Party election of 2010, the government came to a screeching halt. Obama couldn’t lead and Congress wouldn’t follow. Gridlock replaced compromise and that left the country rudderless. So who is to say that the electors won’t take the opportunity to do their version of a modern day electoral coup?
What many people do not realize is that the general election is just the first vote taken in the process of choosing a president. When you cast your vote for the president, you are actually casting a vote for the person who will vote for the president. These people are called electors and they are the ones who decide who will be president.
This election, more so than any in recent history, gave us a lesson on the Electoral College. The incessant polling, the constant reporting on the “swing states” made everyone wish that civics was still a mandatory class in high school. We learned that the popular vote is actually 50 individual races. A candidate has to win the popular votes in enough states to gain an absolute majority share of Electoral College votes. The magic number is 270. It is such an important number that there is a website 270towin.com dedicated to documenting the Electoral College results of past elections.
After the general election results then the electors vote. The electors vote takes place on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. The electors meet in their respective state capitals to officially cast their votes for president and vice president. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate, who on Jan. 6 opens and reads the votes before both houses of Congress. The winner is sworn into office at noon Jan. 20.
Electors are generally selected by the respective political parties. They are expected to “pledge” their vote according to the results of the general election. Therefore the Electoral College vote is usually a formality and the results mirror what occurred on Election Day. However electors are free to vote as they wish and that can change the results. In some cases they vote for the candidate affiliated with their political party. This is known as a “faithless elector.” Since electors are usually chosen by their state party committee it is possible that the majority of electors this year are Republicans.
Faithless electors have not changed the outcome of any presidential election to date. But there is always a first time.