BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: In Depth: US Elections: Vote USA 2000
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

banner Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 18:38 GMT
Who are the Electoral College?
The Electoral College decides the election in December
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

This could be the first election since 1888 in which the next president wins the vote in the Electoral College but does not receive the majority of the popular vote.

It is possible that Texas Governor and Republican candidate George W Bush could win by a thin margin in the Electoral College but lose the popular vote to Democrat Vice President Al Gore by more than 200,000 votes.

But who are these members of the Electoral College?

Becoming an elector

In Massachusetts, the state's electors are no great mystery. The electors from the various parties and for various write-in candidates are listed on the state's website.

If there is one thing that electors share in common, they are all party activists.
The ballot recount in Florida
Once the recounts are done, the Electoral College will cast their votes

David Tuttle is a Republican member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and is also an elector for his party this year.

The process for choosing electors varies from state to state, Mr Tuttle said, but in Massachusetts, the parties' state committees choose the electors.

The Democrat Party's state committee held its elections in July, and ahead of the vote, Marcia Sweeney campaigned to become an elector, calling the 12 members of the party's committee and writing them letters.

She describes herself as a "political junkie," adding: "This is like a life hobby for me." She has been active in the party for some 20 years.

"I've done everything else in the party," she said, from serving on the Democratic Party committee of her town to serving as an alternate elector eight years ago.

But it is not just the two major parties that have electors. The Massachusetts website lists electors for several other parties and write-in candidates, including the Green Party.

Peter White has been active in the party since it held one of its first national gatherings in Amherst Massachusetts in 1987.

He was even active in the Citizens Party, a progressive predecessor to the Green Party.

He was selected earlier this year by the party's state committee to serve as an elector.

Faithless electors

Party loyalty is key for the electors.
Faithless Electors
1960 - Oklahoma Republican elector does not cast vote for Richard Nixon
1968 - North Carolina Republican elector casts protest vote for George Wallace
1972 - Virginia Republican elector casts vote for Libertarian
1976 - Washington Republican elector votes for Ronald Reagan instead of Gerald Ford
1988 - West Virginia Democrat elector votes for Lloyd Bentsen for president instead of Michael Dukakis

Most states, with the notable exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, have a winner-take-all system, meaning that in the case of Massachusetts, all of its 12 votes will go to the winner of the election, in this case Al Gore.

In about half of the states, they are compelled by law to give their votes to their candidates, but in some states, they could legally cast their vote for another candidate.

There are a few instances of this happening.

In 1988, a Democratic elector cast her vote for Lloyd Bentsen for president and Michael Dukakis as vice president, even though Mr Dukakis ran for president with Mr Bentsen as his running mate.

The parties do not look kindly on these electoral turncoats and have labelled them "faithless electors".

In speaking with the electors, it is hard to imagine one of them casting their vote for another candidate.

"If George Bush has won in Massachusetts, I would be hard pressed to find a Republican who would change his vote for Al Gore," Mr Tuttle said.

"It has happened in the past, but basically, whoever does it is an outcast from that point on," he added.

Ms Sweeney can't imagine voting for anyone else but Al Gore when she casts her Electoral College vote December 18.

"I'm a Democrat. I've been one all my life, and I intend to be one until the day I die," she said.

Future reforms

But this historic election could lead to changes in the Electoral College, she said.

"I think that if there were going to be changes made, it would be changes like in Maine and Nebraska," she said. These states do not have a winner-take-all system.

But she does not want to see the system abolished.

It has been 112 years since the last time the Electoral College majority went to the candidate who did not receive a majority of the popular vote, she said, and she believes that the system does give smaller states a greater voice.

But Mr White said the Green Party wants to see the Electoral College abolished. "It perverts the idea of one equal vote per citizen," he said.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console


Bush presidency:


Texts and transcripts:


Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Vote USA 2000 stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more Vote USA 2000 stories