Is the Electoral College a Party School?

Vol. 17 No. 1


Erin Rhinehart is an attorney with Faruki Ireland & Cox LLC in Dayton, Ohio. Contact Erin on her LinkedIn profile.

If you’re a newly minted lawyer, I’m certain that you have had friends and family approach you with the ever-endearing declaration, “Now that you’re a lawyer, you should know the answer to this.” Brace yourself, because in a presidential election year, you will be bombarded with questions about the election process, voting, and general American history. To help get you through this election season, read on, brush up, and get ready to blow your friends, family, clients, colleagues, and perfect strangers away with your political proficiency.

Question: Who can become President of the United States?

Answer: Of course, there are several hurdles that must be cleared to be elected President. However, to be eligible, the U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, identifies three basic criteria that must be met:

  • natural-born citizen of the United States;
  • at least 35 years old; and
  • a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.

Question: Why is the presidency limited to 2 terms of 4 years each?

Answer: In short, because the U.S. Constitution says so. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution limits the presidency to “the term of four years.” It was not until 1951, with the passage of the Twenty-Second Amendment, that the presidency was limited to two terms of four years each.

Historically, credit for the presidential term limit is often given to George Washington’s decision not to seek a third term as president. While John Adams, the second president, was defeated in his run for reelection, Thomas Jefferson, and his two immediate successors, James Madison and James Monroe, also adhered to the two-term limit. Indeed, in 1807, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “if some termination to the services of the chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life.” The two-term limit remained unwritten until FDR’s unprecedented four terms lead to the Twenty-Second Amendment.

Question: What is the Electoral College?

Answer: Okay, so the answer to the title question, a very old joke, is obviously “no.” But, it is likely that you will be asked about the Electoral College. As explained by the Office of the Federal Register, “[t]he Electoral College is a process, not a place.” The concept behind the Electoral College is a compromise between a popular election of the President by citizens and a Congressional vote.

The Electoral College is comprised of 538 “electors.” A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to be elected President. Each of the fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia, is allocated a certain number of electors based on the number of members in the state’s Congressional delegation. U.S. Territories are not represented in the Electoral College. It was not until 1961, with the passage of the Twenty-Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that the District of Columbia was allocated any electoral votes.

While the foregoing represents a small sampling of the types of questions you might expect to receive this election year, knowing the answers to these questions will go a long way to impressing your friends and family.



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