IN THE NEWS #456 - Electoral College Debate

By George Grow

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

People in the United States and around the world are waiting for the final results of the American presidential election. Millions of Americans voted in the election November Seventh. Ballot recounts and legal disputes have delayed the election results.

Vice President Al Gore leads Texas Governor George W. Bush in the popular vote. However, Mr. Gore may not be the winner. That is because the official vote for the next President is still weeks away.

It may be surprising, but Americans do not vote directly for their presidents. They vote for electors to represent them in what is known as the electoral college. The electoral college then elects the next president.

The electoral college was created by the men who wrote the United States Constitution. Each state and the District of Columbia have at least three electors. States with more people have more electors. The exact number of electors depends on the state's population.

Different states have different laws on the appointment of electors. Most electors are political leaders or were chosen for years of service to their party.

In general, the candidate with the most votes wins the state's electoral votes. Yet, there is no federal law that requires electors to vote for the candidate who won the most votes in their state. Some states, however, do require electors to vote for the candidate with the most votes.

There are five-hundred-thirty-eight electors in the electoral college. To become president, a candidate must win more than half of the votes -- or two-hundred-seventy.

Usually, the candidate with the most popular votes wins the electoral college. But not always. He may lose the popular vote, and win the electoral college. This happened in Eighteen-Eighty-Eight. Benjamin Harrison received about one-hundred-thousand fewer votes than his opponent, Grover Cleveland. But Harrison became president because he had sixty-five more electoral votes.

Why should a democratic country have such a system to choose a president? The early leaders did not really believe that average Americans should choose a president. They believed appointed representatives should make the choice.

Some experts say the electoral college helps to guarantee the rights of states with small populations. They say it also requires candidates to reach out to many states, not just highly populated areas.

But many Americans want to end the electoral college. They say the system is undemocratic, difficult to understand and dangerous to the political system.

Reforming the electoral college requires a constitutional amendment. Changing the Constitution requires approval from three-fourths of all states.

The electors are to meet in their states to vote for the president on December Eighteenth. Congress is to meet in early January for an official count of these votes. The new president is to be sworn-in January Twentieth.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by George Grow. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English