The Time Traveler this week wished to share a civics lesson from six decades ago. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
With election fever at a pitch 60 years ago, an editorial column on the pages of the local newspaper attempted to educate the voting public on the electoral college system.
Then as now, most Americans fail to realize that we live in a representative republic not a true democracy.
That was because the smaller states would always be at a perpetual disadvantage if the U.S. Presidential election was based on the popular vote. Thus, the framers of our U.S. Constitution attempted to prevent larger states from dominating U.S. presidential elections.
It could have been written by any of our newspaper columnists today, down to the time frame and political climate.
In 1960, communism, or rather socialism, then as now, was making a comeback with a divided Berlin. Most West Berliners loved and admired the freedom-loving Americans. The Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, some 20 years before, had kept many West Germans from starving.
There was great debate about the “border wall” between East and West. Unrest reigned in the Middle East as well.
The column, which appeared in the DeSoto County News of Thursday, July 28, 1960, was as follows:
“With political activity at a high pitch and the Presidential Election only three months away, we wonder how many Americans know how the President and Vice President of the United States are actually elected.
No wonder how many Americans know about the Electoral College, the comparably small group of men and women who actually decides who will enter the White House and who will become Vice President.
The popular vote alone does not elect the President and Vice President. The Electoral College, authorized by the U.S. Constitution, is the body that casts the ballots which elect them.
Each state in the Union has a number of electors equal to the number of its senators and representatives in the Congress. Mississippi has eight. (By 2020, Mississippi had been reduced to six due to population). New York has 45 electoral votes — the most of any state. (In 2020, New York had 29 electoral votes.
The total number of electoral votes is 537 based on the 1950 Census,” the editorial column of the day explained. At least 269 electoral votes in the Electoral College are needed to win the Presidency.
“All of a state’s electoral votes are given to the candidate who receives a majority of the popular vote in the state. Electors are nominated by the political parties, generally at the parties state conventions.
They are elected on Election Day by the popular vote in their state. This means that the public actually is voting for the Electors on Election Day. Some states carry only the names of the Electors on the Presidential ballot.
After being chosen by the voters, the Electors convene in their state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December and cast their ballots for President and Vice President. Results of the balloting, along with the certificates signed by the state governors, are sent to the president of the Senate. The ballots are opened before a joint session of Congress on the following Jan. 6.
The Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates who receive the majority — at least 269 votes—are declared elected.
Under the Electoral College system, it is possible for a candidate to receive a popular vote majority and yet lose the election by failing to get the majority of electoral votes.
This unique situation arose in 1888, when Benjamin Harrison got fewer popular votes than Grover Cleveland. But became President because he received the electoral majority.
If no candidate receives the necessary electoral majority, the U.S. House of Representatives votes the President into office and the Senate elects the Vice President. Should this unlikely situation occur, the House would vote on the three Presidential candidates who drew the largest number of electoral votes.
Each state would cast one vote — a result of the majority decision of the state’s representatives.
In the Senate, a majority vote (51) would elect the Vice President. The senators would vote only for the two candidates who received the largest number of electoral votes.
Nobody ever said our system of government is perfect, but it has stood the test of time for 244 years.
Even with Coronavirus and mayhem, Lady Liberty’s torch is still held high.
Robert Lee Long is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum