Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Elections in the United States - 270 or more Electoral College votes is all that matters

Published:Tuesday | November 8, 2016 | 12:00 AMRobert Buddan
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets members of the audience on stage after speaking at a rally at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Saturday.
Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump speaks at plane-side rally in a hanger at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa., Sunday.
Robert Buddan

Fifteen forecasts have consistently predicted 270 plus Electoral College (EC) votes for Hillary Clinton, the minimum to win.

Six major predictor organisations say her chances of winning range between 65 per cent and 99 per cent. Five leading market predictors say her chances are at a low of 68 per cent to a high of 83 per cent. Polls say she has a national advantage of about three per cent on the average.

Conclusion on all counts: She will win today.

Technically speaking, though, the president is elected, not directly by the people but by the 50 individual states. This is one of many differences with elections in the English-speaking Caribbean that follow the British system.

American media place much emphasis on who is leading in the polls, giving the impression that what matters is who gets the most votes. This is only half right. What matters is who gets the most votes in those states that add up to 270 or more Electoral College votes. The reason is that the United States was created out of the 50 states that united to make up the federal system. Those states have their own governments headed by governors, but all of them together have a federal government headed by the president. This system gives states a chance to determine who should be president, a reason for joining the federation.

States make voting rules but these cannot override the federal constitution. States elect senators and congressmen but are also assigned votes, called Electoral College votes, to elect the president. Each state makes laws for voting procedures like what is an acceptable voter ID, but an appeals court decides whether these rules might violate federal law, like the Voting Rights Act, by being discriminatory.


Large states important


Electoral College votes are determined by a state's population size. California has the most, 55, and is safe for Hillary Clinton. Small states might have only three. It is important to win the large states, not just a large number of states. Enough large states can bring in 270 Electoral College votes even if they are not a majority of states. Hence, there is much attention to as few as six or as many as 16 swing, or battleground States. Most states, probably two-thirds, are already red (Trump) or blue (Clinton).

Four swing states are critical today - Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, and you might add Pennsylvania, Michigan and Colorado. The race could be over early if Clinton wins Florida.

The Electoral College is made up of 538 delegates from all the states who meet in December to confirm the votes. This is usually a formality, but in truth, some states allow their Electoral College delegates to change their vote or abstain. In a close race, this can obviously matter. In 2000, George W. Bush won the presidency with 271 Electoral College votes, the closest possible margin.