Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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ELECTORAL COLLEGE (IN U. S. HISTORY), the name commonly given to the electors (see ELECTORS) of a state, when met to vote for president and vice-president. The term itself is not used in the constitution, nor in the act of March 1, 1792, the "bill of 1800," or the act of March 26, 1804. Its first appearance in law is in the act of Jan 23, 1845, which purported to empower each state to provide by law for the filling of vacancies in its "college of electors"; but it had been used in formally since about 1821. Under the constitution and the laws the duties of the electors, or of the "electoral college," if the term be preferred, are as follows: 1. They are to meet on the day appointed by the act of 1845, at a place designated by the law of their state. No organization is required, though the electors do usually organize, and elect a chairman. 2. The electors are then to vote by ballot for president and vice-president, the ballots for each office being separate. Until the adoption of the 12th amendment, the electors were simply to vote for two persons, one at least an inhabitant of some other state than their own, without designating the office; and the candidate who obtained a majority of all the electoral votes of the country became president, the next highest becoming vice-president. 3. The original ballots are the property of the state, and, if its law has directed their preservation, they are to be so disposed of. The electors are (by the law of 1792) to make three lists, of the persons voted for, the respective offices they are to fill, and the number of votes cast for each. 4. They are to make and sign three certificates, one for each list, "certifying on each that a list of the votes of such state for president and vice-president is contained therein." 5. They are to add to each list of votes a list of the names of the electors of the state, made and certified by the "executive authority" (the governor) of the state. The name of the executive was left ambiguous, because several of the states in 1792 still retained the use of the title "president" of the state, instead of governor. 6. They are to seal the certificates, and certify upon each that it contains a list of all the electoral votes of the state. 7. They are to appoint by writing under their hands, or under the hands of a majority of them, a person to deliver one certificate to the president of the senate at the seat of government. 8. They are to forward another certificate by the postoffice to the president of the senate. 9. They are to cause the third certificate to be delivered to the (federal) judge of the district in which they assemble. The electoral college is then dead in law, whether it adjourns temporarily or permanently, or never adjourns.


—There is no penalty to be inflicted upon the electors for an improper performance of their duties, or even for a refusal to perform them at all. If a vacancy occurs among the electors, by death, refusal to serve, or any other reason, the state is empowered by the act of 1845 to pass laws for the filling of the vacancy, by the other electors, for example. If no such state law has been passed, the vote or votes are lost to the state, as with Nevada in 1864. If a general refusal of the electors of the country to serve should cause no election to result, the choice of president and vice-president would devolve on the house of representatives and the senate respectively.


—For authorities see those under ELECTORS.


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