Article Two of the Constitution originally established the method of presidential election. It also used an electoral college, but there was a major difference in the voting system. Each elector cast two votes, with the intention that one would be used for a presidential and the other for a vice presidential candidate. The candidate with the highest number of votes would become the president, while the second-place candidate becoming the vice president.
However, the 1796 and 1800 elections highlighted flaws in the electoral system in use at the time. In particular, the tie in the electoral vote that resulted from the lack of separation between presidential and vice presidential votes in the latter election was an issue. The Democratic-Republican Party's candidates, who won the election, were tied with each other, and as a result, the election was thrown to the House of Representatives in the outgoing Federalist Party-controlled 6th Congress. Federalist representatives attempted to elect Aaron Burr, the Democratic-Republican candidate for vice president, over Thomas Jefferson, the presidential candidate. Jefferson eventually won after Alexander Hamilton managed to swing one state delegation's vote to him. As a result, Congress proposed the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution in 1803, and it was ratified in 1804. This amendment created the electoral system used today.
The modern presidential campaign begins before the primary elections, which the two major political parties use to clear the field of candidates in advance of their national nominating conventions, where the most successful candidate is made the party's nominee for president. The party's presidential candidate chooses a vice presidential nominee and this choice is rubber-stamped by the convention. Also, the party establishes a platform on which to base its campaign. Although nominating conventions have a long history in the United States, their substantive importance in the political process has greatly diminished; however, they remain important as a way of energizing the parties for the general election and focusing public attention on the nominees.
Nominees participate in nationally televised debates, and while the debates are usually restricted to the Democratic and Republican nominees, third party candidates may be invited, such as Ross Perot in the 1992 debates. Nominees campaign across the country to explain their views, convince voters, and solicit contributions. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.
President George W. Bush (second from left), walks with, from left, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter during the dedication of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas, November 18, 2004
Voters in each of the states elect a president on Election Day, set by law as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, once every four years; elections for other offices at all levels of government also occur on this date. Each state holds a number of electoral votes which correspond to electors in the Electoral College. Tickets of presidential and vice presidential candidates are shown on the ballot; each vote for the tickets actually corresponds to a vote for a slate of electors chosen by the candidates' political party. In most states, the ticket that wins the most votes in a state wins all of that state's electoral votes, and thus has their slate of electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College. Maine and Nebraska do not use this method, opting instead to give two electoral votes to the statewide winner and one electoral vote to the winner of each Congressional district. Neither state has split electoral votes between candidates as a result of this system in modern elections. In any case, the winning set of electors meets at their state's capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, a few weeks after the election, to vote, and sends a vote count to Congress.
The vote count is opened by the sitting vice president, acting in his capacity as President of the Senate, and read aloud to a joint session of the incoming Congress, which was elected at the same time as the president. Members of Congress can object to any state's vote count, provided that the objection is supported by at least one member of each house of Congress. A successful objection will be followed by debate; however, objections to the electoral vote count are rarely raised.
In the event that no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives chooses the president from among the top three contenders. However, the House does not vote normally; instead, each state delegation is given only one vote, marginalizing the importance of more populous states. The vice president is chosen through normal voting in the Senate, where each state delegation is already of equal size.
When the Constitution was written, the framers disagreed on the selection of the president: some favored national popular vote, while others wanted Congress to choose the president. The Electoral College was created as a compromise between the two proposals. It gave rural areas and smaller states a slightly larger role in determining the outcome of the election, and it continues to do so today; for example, the largest state by population, California, only has about one electoral vote for every 660,000 residents, while the smallest, Wyoming, has an electoral vote for about every 170,000.
Today, most of the electoral process is a formality in the public eye, as the choice of electors determines the result of the election, with a few exceptions. However, the Twelfth Amendment was written in a time when voters at large had little knowledge of candidates outside their state. As a result, the amendment accommodatedthis; the electors that voters had chosen were supposed to learn about the other candidates, and make an informed decision that represented the wishes of their constituents. Modern communication has rendered this unnecessary, and as a result, voters now choose between electors that are already pledged to a presidential