The Federalist No. 68: A Defense of the Electoral College

As has become customary after a closely divided election (especially, one where the popular vote winner loses in the electoral college), there is a growing chorus of individuals calling for the abolishment of the electoral college. Just last night on Real Time With Bill Maher, former Attorney General Eric Holder called for an end to the electoral college.

I suspect these debates will continue not just this year, but in future elections, as well, and so I thought it might be useful to spotlight The Federalist No. 68, wherein Alexander Hamilton explains why the Framers created the electoral college system.

The mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit, that the election of the president is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further; and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages; the union of which was to be desired.

It was desireable, that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any pre-established body, but to men, chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analizing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favourable to deliberation and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements, which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.

It was also peculiarly desirable, to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government, as the president of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of several to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community, with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each state, are to assemble and vote in the state, in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Nothing was more to be desired, than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the president to depend on any pre-existing bodies of men who might be tampered with before hand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the president in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the number of electors. Thus, without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task, free from any sinister byass. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time, as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen states, in any combinations, founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.

Another and no less important desideratum was, that the executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all, but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.

All these advantages will be happily combined in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each state shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such state in the national government, who shall assemble within the state and vote for some fit person as president. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the president. But as a majority of the votes might not always happen to centre on one man and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided, that in such a contingency, the house of representatives shall select out of the candidates, who shall have the five highest numbers of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.

This process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of president, will seldom fall to the lot of any man, who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state; but it will require other talents and a different kind of merit to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the constitution, by those, who are able to estimate the share, which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says–

“For forms of government let fools contest–  That which is best administered is best.”

–yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

The Weekend Before Election Day: A Good Time to Make Sure You’re Fully Informed Before You Vote

The 2016 election is on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. More than 30 million citizens have already voted, taking advantage of early voting opportunities in many states. If, like me, you have not yet voted, I hope you’ll spend some time this weekend making sure you are fully informed before you head to the polls on Tuesday.

Ballotpedia, a non-partisan encyclopedia of American politics at all levels of government, has some very useful Election 2016 resources. This is a terrific one-stop-shop for folks who want a last minute primer on the 2016 election at the federal, state, and local level.

(1) To learn more about the candidates for President and Vice President and their positions on domestic, economic and foreign policy, check out this page.

(2) 34 of 100 seats in the United States Senate are up for reelection. Learn more about the Senate candidates running in your state here.

(3) Learn more about candidates for the House of Representatives here.

(4) A total of 93 state executive seats are scheduled for election in 23 states. All 13 types of executive offices will have an election in at least one state. Twelve states will elect governors, including a special election in Oregon, and ten states will elect attorneys general. Learn more here.

(5) 86 of 99 total state legislative chambers will hold elections on Tuesday. Learn more about these state legislative elections here.

(6) 162 statewide ballot measures have been certified for the ballot in 35 states. Learn more about ballot measures in your state here.

(7) There are many local ballot measures, as well. Check out this page to see what’s been proposed in your locality. 

(8) 63 state supreme courts and intermediate appellate courts across 34 states are holding elections in 2016. Learn more about your state judicial elections here.

(9) 39 of 50 states will hold elections for judges in general and limited jurisdiction trial courts. Learn more about these local judicial elections here.

(10) 46 of the country’s 100 largest cities are holding municipal elections this year. Learn more about your city’s municipal elections here.

(11) 644 of America’s largest school districts by enrollment are holding elections this year for 2,043 seats. These elections will take place in 38 states. These districts collectively educated a total of 17,177,187 students during the 2013-2014 school year—34% of all K-12 students in the United States. Learn more about school board elections where you live here.

(12) There are a number of political recall efforts in several states. Find out if elected officials in your state are being recalled here.

America’s Mock Election Results for the 2016 Presidential Election

Students around the country took part in a nationwide mock election hosted by the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Youth Leadership Initiative and America’s Mock Election.

I co-hosted the results show about how the students voted.

Video of the results show is available here. In addition to discussing how the students voted in each state, we also discussed strategies for teaching about the election, the history of voting rights in the United States, and the importance of civics education.

The students who voted in the YLI/America’s Mock Election student mock election overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton. Clinton won 51% of the popular vote, while Donald Trump won 31% of the vote.

Scholastic also held a nationwide student mock election, where Clinton also prevailed – winning 52% of the student vote, while her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, received 35%.

It will be interesting to compare the results of these student mock elections with the final election results on November 8.

National Constitution Center Podcast: The Candidates and the Constitution

If you’re interested between now and Election Day (November 8) in learning more about where the candidates stand on a variety of constitutional issues, I recommend checking out the National Constitution Center’s “Candidates and the Constitution” podcast series.

Topics include:

(1) Article II and the Powers of the President

(2) Article III and the Future of the Supreme Court

(3) Article V and Constitutional Change

(4) The First Amendment and Free Expression

If you’re looking for a quick overview of how the candidates have discussed a variety of constitutional issues this election cycle, you can check out this article I published last month in The Washington Times.

A Call to Action: Drivers Needed for Carpool2Vote

Last week I blogged about Carpool2Vote. Below is a call to action from the app’s creators. I’m looking forward to using the app to help driver voters in my local community to the polls on Election Day! I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

CALL TO ACTION
 
Can you carpool with someone to vote on November 8th? Do you need a ride to the polls?
This election is too important for anyone to stay home because they couldn’t get to the polls!
 
Carpool2Vote is the first-ever FREE ride share app to the polls. Now available for download in the App Store (Carpool2Vote).
In just 17 days we will know who the next president of the United States will be. WomenVotes.org needs your help to outreach to women and men across the country to join together to make sure that individuals have a free app to get people to the polls to vote and enough volunteer drivers on general election day.
A call to action is now in progress to recruit drivers from around the country. The call to action is asking for people to volunteer to drive as well as individuals to sign up now to carpool to vote. Since this is a volunteer-based initiative created and developed in America, the more drivers that exist, the more people we can get to the polls.
Free Ride To The Polls: WomenVotes Takes You There – Forbes
Women Votes and #Carpool2Vote are bi-partisan initiatives. To further spread the word, Carpool2Vote is being promoted by AMC Networks Inc., which will support outreach and inspire civic engagement through online support on its corporate website and network websites. AMC Networks Inc. owns and operates several of the most popular and award-winning brands in cable television: AMC, BBC AMERICA, IFC, SundanceTV, and WE tv.

The Founders on Elections and Politics

As we near the November 8 election, I thought I’d share some interesting and relevant quotations from the Founding generation on elections and politics –

(1) “Whenever politics are applied to debauch mankind from their integrity and dissolve the virtue of human nature, they become detestable; and to be a statesman on this plan, is to be commissioned a villain. He who aims at it, leaves a vacancy in his character, which may be filled up with the worst epithets.” – Thomas Paine

(2) “An auxiliary desideratum for the melioration of the Republican form is such a process of elections as will most certainly extract from the mass of the Society the purest and noblest characters which it contains; such as will at once feel most strongly the proper motives to pursue the end of their appointment, and be most capable to devise the proper means of attaining it.” – James Madison, Vices of the Political System of the United States (1787)

(3) “After all, Sir we must submit to this idea, that the true principe of a republic is that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Representation is imperfect in proportion as the current of popular favor is checked. This great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed.” – Alexander Hamilton.

(4) “Corruption in Elections has heretofore destroyed all Elective Governments. What Regulations or Precautions may be devised to prevent it in future, I am content with you to leave to Posterity to consider. You and I Shall go to the Kingdom of the just or at least shall be released from the Republick of the Unjust, with Hearts pure and hands clean of all Corruption in Elections: so much I firmly believe. Those who shall introduce the foul Fiend on the Stage, after We are gone must exorcise him as they can.” – John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (April 6, 1796)

(5) “In all free governments, contentions in elections will take place, and, whilst it is confined to our own citizens, it is not to be regretted; but severely indeed ought it to be reprobated, when occasioned by foreign machinations.” – George Washington

(6) “Politics is such a torment than I would advise everyone I love not to mix with it.” -Thomas Jefferson

(7) “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” – Thomas Jefferson

(8) “Every man who acts beyond the lien of private life, must expect to pass through two severe examinations. First, as to his motives; secondly, as to his conduct. On the former of these depends his character for honesty; on the latter for wisdom.” – Thomas Paine

(9) “The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust. The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic policy of republican government. The means relied on in this form of government for preventing their degeneracy are numerous and various. The most effectual one, is such a limitation of the term of appointments as will maintain a proper responsibility to the people.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 57

(10) “[I]n no case ought the eyes of the people to be shut on the conduct of those entrusted with power; nor their tongues tied from a just wholesome censure on it, any more than from merited commendations. If neither gratitude for the honor of the trust, nor responsibility for the use of it, be sufficient to curb the unruly passions of public functionaries, add new bits to the bridle rather than to take it off altogether. This is the precept of common sense illustrated and enforced by experience — un-controuled power, ever has been, and ever will be administered by the passions more than by reason.” – James Madison, Political Reflections

 

What is the Electoral College?

The Constitution and the Electoral College

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.

In Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton said of the electoral college

I venture somewhat further; and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages; the union of which was to be desired.

. . .

All these advantages will be happily combined in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each state shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such state in the national government, who shall assemble within the state and vote for some fit person as president. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the president. But as a majority of the votes might not always happen to centre on one man and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided, that in such a contingency, the house of representatives shall select out of the candidates, who shall have the five highest numbers of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.

This process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of president, will seldom fall to the lot of any man, who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state; but it will require other talents and a different kind of merit to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the constitution, by those, who are able to estimate the share, which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration.

The electoral college was the result of a compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. There were four possible options proposed for selecting a national executive: election by Congress, election by state governors, election by state legislatures and direct election. The idea of the electoral college was ultimately proposed by the Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters. The proposal was met by approval by most of the delegates and was added to the Constitution with only minor changes.

The Twelfth Amendment, which was passed by Congress and ratified by the states, after the electoral college tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in 1800, modified Article II, Section 1 as follows –

The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; — The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. — The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

 

How it Works

When Americans cast their votes for a president and vice president, they are, in reality, voting for the slate of electors in their states pledged to those particular candidates. This group across the states is known collectively as the electoral college. The Constitution (as described above) assigns each state a number of electors. The number is based on the combined total of the state’s Senate and House of Representatives delegations. There are currently 538 electors.

According to the Congressional Research Service,

In 48 states and the District of Columbia, the entire slate of electors winning the most popular votes in the state is elected, a practice known as “winner-take-all” or “the general ticket” system. Maine and Nebraska use an alternative method, the “district system,” which awards two electors to the popular vote winners statewide, and one to the popular vote winners in each congressional district. Electors assemble in their respective states on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 19 in 2016). They are expected, but not constitutionally bound, to vote for the candidates they represent. The electors cast separate ballots for President and Vice President, after which the electoral college ceases to exist until the next presidential election. State electoral vote results are reported to Congress and other designated authorities; they are then counted and declared at a joint session of Congress held on January 6 of the year after the election; Congress may, however, change this date by joint resolution. A majority of electoral votes (currently 270 of 538) is required to win, but the results submitted by any state are open to challenge at the joint session, as provided by law.

The final electoral college vote has reflected the national popular vote in 53 of 57 presidential elections. Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, and Al Gore all won the national popular vote, but lost in the electoral college.

 

Facts are Stubborn Things: Take Time This Election Season to Educate Yourself About the Facts

In 1770, John Adams famously said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote “Illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeats its purposes.”

John Jay also famously said “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.”

In a 1786 essay, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge.”

James Madison in his 1810 address to Congress said “It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”

The Founding generation understood that facts matter.  And it is our responsibility as citizens to educate ourselves about the facts and to not allow the passions of the moment to overrule reason. Take time this election season to thoughtfully consider the veracity of claims made by candidates. Don’t give in to the allure of a post-factual society. Facts are stubborn, and foundational. You need facts to fully understand the world, and the free world requires a well-instructed people. In the words of James Monroe, “[it] is only when the People become ignorant and corrupt . . . that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty.”

A Brief History of the Office of the Vice President of the United States

Tonight, Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence, the vice presidential candidates for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump respectively, will debate at Longwood University. This seems like a good opportunity to discuss the office of the Vice President of the United States. It is an office that is little understood and often ridiculed.

Of the office, John Adams said “But my country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived. And as I can do neither good nor evil, I must be borne away by others, and meet the common fate.”

Thomas Jefferson, who served as vice president under John Adams, wrote “The second office of the land is honorable and easy, the first is but a splendid misery.”

Adams and Jefferson are among the remarkable individuals who have served in the office of the vice president. The Senate Historical Office succinctly summarizes the individuals who have served in the office

Fourteen of the former vice presidents became president of the United States—more than half of them after a president had died. One defeated the sitting president with whom he served. One murdered a man and became a fugitive. One joined the Confederate army and led an invasion of Washington, D.C. One was the wealthiest banker of his era. Three received the Nobel Peace Prize and one composed a popular melody. One served as a corporal in the Coast Guard while vice president. One had cities in Oregon and Texas named after him. Two resigned from the office. Two were never elected by the people. One was the target of a failed assassination plot. Another was mobbed in his car while on a goodwill mission. Seven died in office—one in his room in the U.S. Capitol and two fatally stricken while on their way to preside over the Senate. And one piano-playing vice president suffered political repercussions from a photograph showing him playing that instrument while a famous movie actress posed seductively on top of it.

The Constitution and the Vice Presidency

Selecting the Vice President

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides –

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President. (Emphasis Added)

The Election of 1800 and the 12th Amendment

In the contentious election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr ended up receiving the same number of electoral votes. Per the language in Article II, Section 1 (see above), the decision of who would serve as president fell to the House of Representatives. After 35 separate ballots where neither candidate was able to secure a majority, Jefferson was finally able to prevail over Burr. Jefferson became president and Burr served as vice president.

How could this happen? How could candidates running together end up running against each other in the event of a tie? Prior to the passage of the 12th Amendment, the Constitution did not differentiate between presidential and vice presidential candidates. Each elector cast two votes without regard for political affiliation. Whomever received the most votes became president and the runner-up became vice president. Either candidate could win either office, regardless of whether they initially set out to run in one position or the other. The election of 1800 put pressure on Congress to fix this system, and so by 1804 the 12th Amendment was passed by Congress and ratified by the requisite number of states. The Amendment reads –

The electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;–The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;–the person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States. (Emphasis added)

Duties of the Vice President Under the Constitution

Under Article II, Section I, of the Constitution, the Vice President will act as president when the sitting president is removed from office, or if (s)he dies, resigns or is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office.

In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

Under Article I, Section III,

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

Furthermore, Article II, Section 1 provides that the President of the Senate (the Vice President) shall receive from the states the tally of electoral ballots cast for president and vice president and open the certificates “in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives,” so that the total votes could be counted. In 2000, this led to a famously awkward moment when then-Vice President Al Gore had to formally certify his opponent in the 2000 presidential race, George W. Bush, as president of the United States.

The decision of the Framers to have the Vice President preside over the Senate was not an uncontroversial one. Joseph Story on his Commentaries on the Constitution explained

§ 733. Some objections have been taken to the appointment of the vice president to preside in the senate. It was suggested in the state conventions, that the officer was not only unnecessary, but dangerous; that it is contrary to the usual course of parliamentary proceedings to have a presiding officer, who is not a member; and that the state, from which he comes, may thus have two votes, instead of one. It has also been coldly remarked by a learned commentator, that “the necessity of providing for the case of a vacancy in the office of president doubtless gave rise to the creation of that officer; and for want of something else for him to do, whilst there is a president in office, he seems to have been placed, with no very great propriety, in the chair of the senate.”

There were additional separation of powers concerns raised during the Constitutional Convention. George Mason of Virginia

thought the office of vice-President an encroachment on the rights of the Senate; and that it mixed too much the Legislative & Executive, which as well as the Judiciary departments, ought to be kept as separate as possible. 

So what of the vice presidency today? Nearly 1/3 of Americans can’t name our current Vice President. All the more reason to study up on the history of the office!