Thursday, October 23, 2008

You're not voting for McCain or Obama, technically

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my office doing some work and I got a phone call from what I thought was a reporter. The person on the other end of the line asked me if it's true that we don't really vote for the candidates listed on the ballot. I replied that was correct. Technically, when we cast our ballots in the presidential election, we vote for electors that are pledged to that candidate.

The voice on the other end of the line asked me, "Well, then how do we know that they will vote for the person they are pledged to?"

My response: you don't, and that's the point. The Electoral College was set up as one last check against majority tyranny by the Founding Fathers. When we cast our ballots, we actually cast our ballots for a slate of electors who then cast their ballots for their presidential choice. And they can choose to express themselves however they wish, regardless of their individual pledge to a candidate. Each elector represents one of the state's electoral college votes. In Montana, then, we have three electors that will cast their ballots in December for president. Who wins the popular vote in the state will have the three electors pledged to them cast Montana's electoral votes. This vote total is received by the Secretary of the Senate and that becomes the official election tally.

In case you were wondering, here are the electors pledged to McCain and Obama:

1. Thelma Baker
2. Errol Gault
3. John Brenden

1. Chas Jankier
2. Ann Milbrooke
3. Greg Jerguson

The likelihood of an elector NOT casting their ballot for the candidate to whom they are pledged is quite rare. First, the electors are generally good party members and friends of the candidate. Second, some states have laws that require electors to cast their ballots for the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state (of course, I think these laws are constitutionally dubious but, to my knowledge, they've never been challenged). Montana is one of these states. This suggests, of course, that the check on majority tyranny is no longer a check but a simply constitutional formality ratifying the will of the people.

The last time an elector did not cast their ballot as pledged was in 1976 when one of Gerald Ford's electors cast his ballot for Ronald Reagan.

By the way, the person who called me was not a journalist but a chef. He and his colleagues were simply discussing this while preparing for the lunch crowd, and wanted to know who Montana's electors were.

1 comment:

A said...

Thanks, you just resolved a fight between my boyfriend and I. In case you are wondering, I won!