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had set the example."25 When Virginia changed from the district system in 1800, Jefferson wrote to James Monroe: “All agree that an election by districts would be best if it could be general but while ten states choose either by their legislatures or by a general ticket, it is folly and worse than folly for the other states not to do it."26
By 1836 every state except South Carolina had abandoned the system of having the electors appointed by the legislature. South Carolina discontinued this practice in 1860. It was used, under special circumstances, by Colorado in 1868 and Florida in 1876. In 1892 the Michigan Legislature changed from the general ticket system to a district system to divide the state's electoral votes in the presidential election to be held later in the year. This action was upheld by the Supreme Court.2:
Today the general ticket system exists in every state. It credits the winner of the popular vote in the state with all of the state's electoral votes, regardless of the vote received by the other candidates or the number of people who voted.
Electors as automata
The Framers did not contemplate the development of political parties, pledged electors, or nominating conventions. They envisioned, as previously noted, an electoral system under which the 'most knowledgeable and capable persons in each state would be chosen as electors. The electors would examine the merits of the various candidates for President and exercise sound and independent judgment in casting their votes.
The emergence of political parties put an end to these beliefs. In short order, the electors became automata, mere agents without discretion. They were nominated by their parties as part of a slate of electors with instructions to vote automatically for their party nominees for President and Vice-President.
In the election of 1796, a Pennsylvania elector voted contrary to instruction, causing a Federalist voter to say: "Do I choose Samuel Miles to determine for me whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson is the fittest man for President of these United States? No, I choose him to act, not to think.”28
25 Ibid. p. 459. 26 Jefferson, X The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 134 (Library ed. Jefferson
Memorial Ass'n 1903). 27 McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1 (1892). 28 O'Neil, American Electoral System 65 (G. P. Putnam's Sons 1889).
This unanticipated change in the role of the presidential elector led a Senate Select Committee to state in 1826:
In the first election held under the Constitution, the people
Today presidential electors are chosen by popular vote in every state (plus the District of Columbia), although the state legislatures retain the power to change this practice. They are nominated by state conventions of the political parties, state committees of the political parties, state primaries, the presidential nominees, or the Governor upon the recommendation of the state executive committees of the political parties. The states have various provisions regarding electors of new parties or electors pledged to specific candidates.
29 Senate Select Committee, Resolutions Proposing Amendments to the Consti
tution of the United States, S. Rep. No. 22, 19th Cong., 1st Sess. 4 (1826). 30 Schlesinger, Paths to the Present 114 (The Macmillan Company 1949).
In almost three-fourths of the states, the presidential short ballot is used. This ballot does not set forth the names of the electors but merely the expression “presidential electors for,” followed by the names of the candidates for President and Vice-President. Some states list the candidates for President and Vice-President and below them the names of the electors. A mark in the appropriate box designates a vote for the entire slate of electors of one party. A few states list the names of the electors but not the presidential candidates.
It can be fairly said that most voters do not know the names of the electors for whom they vote and in whose hands they place the choice of President and Vice-President.
Electors voting contrary to instructions
Although electors usually have voted for their party candidates, there have been several occasions on which they have voted contrary to expectations. The most notable cases have occurred in this century.
In 1948 a Tennessee elector running on both the Democratic and States' Rights tickets was elected as a result of the popular vote in Tennessee for the Democratic ticket. (The Democrats received 49.1 percent of the vote; the Republicans, 36.9 percent; and the States' Rights, 13.4 percent.) This elector, however, cast his electoral vote for the States' Rights candidate, as he had announced prior to the election that he would do.
In 1956 W. F. Turner of Alabama, a Democratic elector, voted for Judge Walter B. Jones of Alabama for President instead of for Adlai E. Stevenson and for Herman Talmadge of Georgia for VicePresident instead of for Estes Kefauver. Yet Stevenson and Kefauver had carried the state with 56.5 percent of the popular vote.
In 1960 Henry D. Irwin of Oklahoma, a Republican elector, voted for Democratic Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia for President and Republican Senator Barry H. Goldwater of Arizona for VicePresident. Yet the Republican candidates, Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, had carried Oklahoma by more than 162,000 popular votes (or 59 percent of the total cast in Oklahoma).
Other cases are: In 1820 a New Hampshire elector voted against his party's candidate and for John Quincy Adams, who was not even running for office; in 1824 the electors of North Carolina were pledged to two presidential candidates, Jackson and Adams, with the understanding that they would vote for the candidate with the best chance; and in 1912 the Theodore Roosevelt slate of electors in South Dakota declared before election that they would vote for Taft if Roosevelt could not be elected and the contest was between Taft and Wilson.
In view of the possibility of elector defection, a few states have passed laws requiring electors to vote for their party nominees. The constitutionality of these laws has never been passed on by the Supreme Court.31
The laws of several states permit the election of a slate of unpledged electors if they are nominated in the party primaries. These electors can vote as they please. Thus, in 1960 six unpledged electors from Alabama and eight unpledged electors from Mississippi cast their votes for Senator Harry Byrd for President. In 1964 the Democratic electors of Alabama were unpledged. Because the names of the Democratic national candidates did not appear on the ballot, the people of Alabama had no opportunity to vote for them.
As previously indicated (p. 23), the Framers did not contemplate pledged electors. Yet unpledged electors are a serious threat to the stability of the American electoral system. The use of unpledged electors is a device which could frustrate completely the public will. If unpledged electors held the balance of power, they could dictate the outcome by voting for either major candidate, or they could throw the election into the House of Representatives by voting for a third candidate.
This peril in our system, coupled with the ability of a pledged elector to vote against his party's candidates, was underscored during the 1961 hearings before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 3The record indicates that between the election on November 8, 1960, and the meeting of the electors on December 19 Republican elector Irwin participated in a movement that was designed to elect a President other than Kennedy or Nixon. The plan focused on getting electors of both parties, plus unpledged electors, to join together so that neither major candidate
31 See State v. Hummel, 150 Ohio St. 127, 80 N.E. 2d 899 (1948); Opinion of
the Justices No. 87, 250 Ala. 399, 34 So. 2d 598 (1948), holding invalid a statute binding electors. A contrary dictum is found in Matter of Thomas v. Cohen, 146 Misc. 836, 841-42, 262 N.Y. Supp. 320, 331 (Sup. Ct. 1933). Cf.
Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 214 (1952). 32 Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments of the
Senate Judiciary Committee on S.J. Res. 1, 2, 4, 7, 12, 16, 17, 23, 26, 28, 48, 96, 102, 113, 114, 87th Cong., 1st Sess. 596-656 (1961).
would be able to obtain a majority of the electoral votes. Fortunately, the plan was unsuccessful."
Election of minority Presidents
The electoral college method of electing a President has governed forty-five presidential elections and has produced fourteen Presidents who did not obtain a majority of the popular votes cast in the election. They are: John Quincy Adams in 182433 (with 30.54 percent of the popular vote); James K. Polk in 1844 (49.56 percent); Zachary Taylor in 1848 (47.35 percent); James C. Buchanan in 1856 (45.63 percent); Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (39.79 percent) 34; Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 (48.04 percent); James A. Garfield in 1880 (48.32 percent); Grover Cleveland in 1884 (48.53 percent); Benjamin Harrison in 1888 (47.86 percent); Grover Cleveland in 1892 (46.04 percent); Woodrow Wilson in 1912 (41.85 percent); Woodrow Wilson in 1916 (49.26 percent); Harry S Truman in 1948 (49.51 percent); and John F. Kennedy in 1960 (49.71 percent).
Of the fourteen minority Presidents, three of them each received fewer popular votes than his major opponent.
In 1824: Andrew Jackson received 43.13 percent of the popular vote and 37.93 percent of the electoral vote; John Q. Adams, 30.54 percent of the popular and 32.18 percent of the electoral; Henry Clay, 13.24 percent of the popular and 14.18 percent of the electoral; and William H. Crawford, 13.09 percent of the popular and 15.71 percent of the electoral. Because no candidate received a majority of the electoral vote, the selection of President devolved on the House of Representâu.-. Adams was selected President, receiving the votes of thirteen states to seven states for Jackson and four for Crawford. It is alleged that Adams won the election because of Clay's support.35
In 1876: Democratic presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden won a majority of the popular vote (50.99 percent). He had over 250,000 popular votes more than the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. Yet Tilden lost the election by one electoral vote (185 to 184), after certain disputed electoral votes from four states had
33 In 1824 the electors were chosen by the legislature in six of the twenty-four
states. 34 Lincoln's name did not appear on the ballot in ten states. 35 See Roseboom, A History of Presidential Elections 84-86 (The Macmillan