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Blinkhorn: Electoral College Primer

On Monday, December 19, seven prominent citizens – three from Vermont, four in New Hampshire - will assemble in their respective state capitols to participate in a curious, historic ceremony - casting votes for the next president and vice-president of the United States. The seven are members of the Electoral College, established by the US Constitution. There are a total of 538 Electors, all of whom will vote in their respective state capitals as well as the District of Columbia on the same day as stipulated in the Constitution – the Monday after the second Wednesday in December each Presidential election year. The total 538 reflects the 435 members of the United States House plus 100 US senators plus three electors representing the District of Columbia.

The three Vermont electors are Democrats: Governor Peter Shumlin; Martha Allen, president of the Vermont National Education Association; and Tim Jerman, former state legislator, currently vice-chair of the Vermont Democratic party.

The New Hampshire contingent includes four Democratic women: Dudley Webster Dudley, the first woman elected to that state’s Executive Council; Bev Hollingworth, former New Hampshire senate president; Terie Norelli, former House Speaker; and Carol Shea-Porter, just re-elected to the US House.

They’re all Democrats because states generally abide by a “winner take all” agreement, meaning that electors from the party of the candidate receiving most popular votes represent their state in the Electoral College. Since Hillary Clinton won most of the popular votes in Vermont and New Hampshire, the Democratic party electors go to the Electoral College.

These electors are expected to vote for their party’s candidate, and they invariably do - although one so-called “faithless” elector, former New Hampshire governor William Plumer, cast the only dissenting vote in the Electoral College against incumbent James Munro in 1820.

The Electoral College was created out of a deadlock at the Constitution Convention of 1787 - a compromise that’s provoked endless debate ever since. Only five times in the nation’s history has the candidate receiving the most popular votes failed to become president because of a failure to get the required 270 electoral votes - the most recent being Al Gore in 2000, and of course, Hilary Clinton this year.