The Electoral College
The existence and duties of the presidential electors and the electoral college are so little known today that most American voters believe that they are voting directly for a president and vice president on election day. The electors may be well-known people, such as governors, state legislators, or other state and local officials, but they generally do not receive public recognition as electors, and, in most states, the names of individual electors do not appear anywhere on the ballot, where only those of the candidates for president and vice president appear, usually prefaced by the words “electors for.” Electoral votes are commonly referred to as having “been awarded” to the winning candidate, as if no human beings were involved in the process.
he Electoral College is a process, included in the Constitution as a compromise between electing the president by a vote in Congress and by a popular vote of qualified citizens. The process has three parts: the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for president and vice president, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.
Electoral votes are allocated among the states based on the Census. Every state is allocated two votes for its senators in the U.S. Senate, plus a number of votes equal to the number of its members in the US House of Representatives. Under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution, the District of Columbia is allocated three electors and treated like a state for purposes of the Electoral College. Effective for the 2020 presidential elections, the total number of electoral votes is 538 and the majority needed to elect is 270.
The electors are generally chosen by the candidate’s political party, but state laws vary on how the electors are selected. Aside from Members of Congress, and persons holding offices of “trust or profit” under the Constitution, anyone may serve as an elector. There is no constitutional provision or federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states. Electors can be bound by state law or by pledges to political parties. Most states have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the winning presidential candidate. Maine and Nebraska each have a variation of “proportional representation.”
The Electoral College as originally devised was a failure by 1800. Amendments and the role of political parties have over time produced a patchwork version that has muddled along, but hardly represents any founding father’s vision of electors as independent actors, weighing the merits of competing presidential candidates. The irony today is that the founders’ original intent was to forestall the “elevation of someone unworthy” through a purely popular national vote.
It may be argued that the current process of primaries and the Electoral College do serve a purpose by narrowing the field of potential candidates and making sure any successful candidate is popular across different parts of the country, but there is certainly room for improvement. The climate today would seem to favor the National Popular Vote bill that would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey is one of 11 states with 165 electoral votes that has already signed this bill into law and it will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more electoral votes. Working through national organizations such as NCJW to spread the word and encourage action in more states, each of us can still make a difference. For details go to nationalpopularvote.com.
—Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair
Cabinet Nominees for the New Administration: Expose and Oppose
The proposed cabinet for the new administration has been described as “light” in government experience and “heavy” in wealth and business connections, although to date the numbers show a split slightly tilted toward wealth and connections. While it is no surprise that the new president’s background predisposes him to favor that tilt, it is distressing that some of the nominees, by their past actions and words, are seriously opposed to the mission of the departments they may lead, and face little opposition for confirmation.
For example, part of the mission of the Education Department is to ”ensure equal access to educational opportunity for all,” yet nominee Betsy De Vos, has no experience in public education, and espouses greatly expanding charter schools and voucher programs, programs that have not ensured equal access. Scott Pruitt, who has spent much of his tenure as attorney general for Oklahoma suing the Environmental Protection Agency, and whose career has been funded in part by the oil industry, is the chosen candidate to lead the EPA. And Andrew Pudzer, a fast-food executive with a dubious labor record who opposes minimum wage laws, is slated for the Department of Labor. The list goes on and on.
The Democrats have little hope of seriously influencing the outcome unless Republican senators are pressured by their constituents to vote against specific nominees. Rex Tillerson, nominated for secretary of state has drawn opposition from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and John McCain, because in his 41 years at Exxon Mobil he has forged close relations with the Russian leadership and the Russian State Oil Company. Coupled with the Russian hacking scandal, this nomination is under heavy scrutiny.
Part of the confirmation process requires background checks, but only three Senate committees have the authority to require nominees to release their tax returns. Each committee can amend its rules to require this, something that most states require of their officeholders, but there is no movement toward that in the Senate. In fact, the refusal of the new president to release his financial and full medical records during the campaign upended 40 years of tradition and set an example that many in his administration may follow unless compelled to do otherwise. Unless there is full disclosure of business interests and connections, it will be impossible to know if the individual actions of the administration are truly in the public interest or whether actions by foreign entities are seeking to “curry favor.” For example, the embassy of Kuwait has held an event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in the past, but suddenly cancelled this year’s contract and moved the event to the Trump Washington Hotel. Were they pressured or did they see an advantage in this?
By the time you read this article, some or all of the cabinet nominees may have been confirmed and left with the foxes guarding the henhouse. What are we to do? Expose and oppose. Be vigilant about new laws and rule changes coming from Washington, which I will follow and pass along, and monitor their effect at the local level, where you can have an impact in mitigating or overturning such changes. There is a lot of advocacy experience in the Section and the NCJW Washington office is always available for advice and help. We are only on a detour, one full of roadblocks as we continue our work for women and children, social justice and the rights and freedoms of all.
Surrounded by powerful silhouettes depicting human trafficking victims and tables bursting with beautiful fair trade boutique items, we shopped ’til we dropped and had lots of fun.
Although it was a fun event, the Fair, held at County College of Morris in Randolph, conveyed a strong message. One silhouette depicted a human trafficking victim bound in ropes with the notice “not for sale.” Another showed the insides of a human body and explained that some people are trafficked to harvest their organs for transplant. The silhouette that attendees voted “Fair Favorite” was covered with broken glass, depicting the true story of a victim trying to put her life back together.
Our guest speaker, rabbinic intern Sarah Barasch-Hagans discussed how important it is in Jewish tradition to free the slave and raise up the poor and the downtrodden.
Sarah told us that most cacao used in making chocolate comes from Africa, and almost all of it is grown by people trapped in slavery. Many of them are children, even as young as five years old. Therefore most Fair Trade chocolate is sourced from Central and South America, where the cacao is grown by small farms with independent farmers who work under safe working conditions and earn a fair wage for their labors.
Sarah also discussed how the Fair Food movement began among tomato workers in Florida twenty years ago. The workers initiated a protest against wages well below minimum wage; unsafe working conditions in fields without shade, water, or toilet facilities; sexual harassment; and horrible living conditions. Aided by faith-based groups, especially Sarah’s organization, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (in south Florida) was born. In a few short years the Coalition was able to obtain the support of almost all fast food chains (with the exception of Wendy’s) and Walmart to only purchase tomatoes that were certified Fair Food. The Immokalee coalition is continuing to pressure Wendy’s to sign on to the agreement, and is now expanding their efforts beyond tomatoes to include strawberries and peppers.
Our Section is supporting the Fair Food movement by offering Fair Trade chocolate and coffee for sale. Please contact Susan Neigher (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to purchase these kosher parve products.