On December 19, members of the electoral college in each state met to cast their votes for president. They elected Donald Trump.
The electoral college voting process is largely a formality that certifies the winner of the popular vote in each state. When citizens cast their ballot for president, they are really voting for a slate of electors that will represent them in the electoral college to select the president.
In other words, an entirely different group of people goes to the electoral college depending on if your state swings red or blue. If the Democratic candidate for president won the popular vote in your state, then a group of Democratic loyalists gets sent to the electoral college. If the Republican candidate wins, a group of people who each have a history of supporting the Republican Party makes up that state’s electors.
Electors are chosen for their loyalty to the party. They also take a pledge to select the popular vote winner in their state. In some states, electors are bound by law.
Therefore, although electors can (and sometimes do) vote for somebody other than their candidate, concerns that electors will go rogue and change the election results are largely unfounded.
2016 turned out to be a historic year for the electoral college. A record-breaking number of electors defected from their state’s presidential candidate and more people received electoral votes than in any election since 1796.
In 2016, a total of seven electors successfully cast their ballots for a different person than they were pledged to. Hillary Clinton lost five votes and Donald Trump lost two.
FairVote, an organization dedicated to electoral vote reform, points out that three more electoral college members tried to vote for somebody other than Hillary Clinton, but were stopped by laws in their respective states.
Had they been successful, Hillary Clinton would have lost more electoral votes than any presidential candidate in history. The record is held by James Madison. In 1808, six New York electors cast their votes for vice-presidential candidate George Clinton instead.
This isn’t the only 200+ year record nearly shattered by the 2016 election.
2016 also saw the greatest amount of people receive electoral votes in 220 years. In 1796, 13 people received electoral votes.
This was the third presidential election in history. Before the 12th amendment was ratified, the candidate with the most votes became president and the candidate in second place became vice president. The 1796 election was so confusing that it resulted in a president and vice president from rival political parties.
John Adams, a federalist, was elected President. The Democratic-Republicans split their vote, and Thomas Jefferson became vice president. This was not what the founding fathers intended. To get an idea of why, if the United States had stuck with this system and not amended the constitution, then Hillary Clinton would be Donald Trump’s vice president.
In 1800, the fourth presidential election in U.S. history, Thomas Jefferson took Aaron Burr as his running mate and ran against John Adams. They won, but because they each received the same number of votes, it was unclear which of them was the president and which was the vice president.
Everyone knew that Jefferson was bidding for the presidency with Aaron Burr as his running mate, but the Federalists were eager to deny Jefferson the presidency. They repeatedly voted Aaron Burr for president. This blocked Jefferson from receiving a majority of the votes.
While a snowstorm raged outside, the House came to a standstill 35 times. Finally, the Federalist elector from Delaware abstained. This gave Jefferson the majority he needed to win. It had taken seven days and 36 ballots to elect the president.
These chaotic elections resulted in the 12th amendment, which refined the electoral process outlined in Article Two of the Constitution. Among other clarifications, the election for vice president is now on a separate ballot. Candidates can effectively run on tickets and not end up with a political rival as their second-in-command.
The 2016 election spurred interest in the electoral college. Although usually a formality, a look at its origins reveals why we have it and why the founding fathers clarified the system. The 2016 election results nearly made history in ways not seen in the electoral college since its founding.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]