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Opinion: Our presidential election

Finally, it’s over. After what seems like a decade of having been bombarded by campaign propaganda, our votes have been cast in the 59th quadrennial presidential election, and we can turn our attention back to other mind-numbing pursuits like trying to figure out which bachelor will be chosen on The Bachelorette or who will be voted off the island on Survivor. Now we can sit back and await the outcome of the REAL election of the President of the United States.

“What,” you may say, “you mean that we stood in line or rushed to get our ballots in the mailbox, and we didn’t vote in the REAL election?”

Well, that’s hard to say. If there was an “overwhelming” number of votes cast for one of the candidates, then he probably won. The celebrating could commence (at least for one of the political parties), and we could put our lawn signs in the garbage.

“Okay,” you continue, “but what’s an ‘overwhelming’ number?”

That’s also hard to say. It sort of depends on where the votes were cast because that may determine who the REAL electors will be and for whom they may cast their votes. Off hand, a good guess is that if a candidate has a majority plus 5 or 6 million additional votes, then he’ll very likely be the president for the next four years.

But, if it was a close election, then we really won’t know until the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. This year, that will be December 14, the day that the electors of the Electoral College cast their votes. Then, if one of the candidates gets a majority, he’ll probably be the next president.


Yes, you see our “democracy” is a bit complicated. The Founding Fathers were distrustful of a direct election of the president and vice president, so they built a lot of “redundancies” or you might call them “fail-safes” into The Constitution. Remember, when our constitution was written, a high percentage of our citizens were illiterate. Perhaps more importantly, there were people in the United States whose loyalties remained with the King of England. And, of course, we’ve probably always had some people who were anarchists, agents of foreign governments, or just pranksters who wanted to taint our elections.

“So,” you ask, “the votes that we cast determine who the Electors will be?”

I hate to be repetitive, but that’s complicated, too. With the exception of Nebraska and Maine, states have rules that all of their Electoral College votes will go to the candidate who wins a majority of votes within the state. California has 55 Electoral College votes, more than any other state. So, let’s say that Candidate X gets 51 percent of the votes cast, Candidate Y gets 48 percent, and Candidate Z (a “third party” entry) and write-ins for the family dog, cat, or pot-bellied pig gets the remaining one percent. All 55 Electoral College votes go to Candidate X. Therefore, if you voted for Candidate Y, your vote actually winds up in Candidate X’s box.

“That’s not fair!” you shout.

If you want fair, go live in New Zealand. We’re talking about American politics, and no one ever claimed that there was anything fair about the system.

“America is my home,” you insist. “I’m not moving. So, what happens after the Electors are chosen?”

Well, the governor of the state prepares Certificates of Ascertainment of the vote. The certificates include a list of the electors and an accounting of the votes cast on November 3. Then, after the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14, Certificates of the Vote are prepared, including the number of votes cast by the Electors. These Certificates of the Vote are paired with the Certificates of Ascertainment, sealed in an envelope, and certified. Then, the certificates are sent by registered mail to the president of the U.S. Senate, the secretary of the state in which the votes were cast, the archivist of the United States, and the judge of the U.S. district court in the district where the electors met.

“This,” you complain, “is getting to be a bit ridiculous.”

I agree. But perhaps it made sense back in the eighteenth century. And, remember that the Constitution has been amended several times. For example, the 20th Amendment addresses our electoral process.

“Wow!” you exclaim, “what does that say?”

Basically, it says that the new Congress must be in place on January 3rd following the quadrennial general election. Then, if the electors fail to chose the election winners, the new president and vice president will be chosen by the Congress.

“But,” you observe, “Congress seems to be in a permanent gridlock. So, what happens if the members don’t arrive at a decision on January 3?”

Oh, the 20th Amendment has a solution for that, too. It states that “at some point” a new president and vice president will be seated. In the meantime, the office of President of the United States will be assumed by the Speaker of the House.

“Who’s that?” you ask.

Well, unless she’s replaced immediately by the new House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Airplane flights from San Francisco to New Zealand start at $963.

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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at

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