Dear Madam or Sir,
If you have travelled overseas with a Canadian accent, you might have been mistaken for an American. Yet, while travelling in the United States, you might have had to clarify that we don’t all have dogsleds. We may share some cultural characteristics with our neighbours to the south but our differences abound. For example, every four years, you probably notice that there are some major differences between our electoral process. This post will provide an overview of the electoral college.
Unless you have studied US politics or history, the concept of the Electoral College might be elusive. It’s particularly difficult to understand it in the context of a democracy. US voters do not directly elect their president, although they cast a vote in favour of their choice for President and Vice President, for a Senator, and for a House Representative.
Canada’s system is quite straight-forward. The voting public elects local representatives. These candidates are nominated by a party or are independent representatives, in a predetermined geographic area--a riding. The representative with the most votes per riding gets a seat in the House of Commons, representing the residents of that riding (constituents). The political party with the most seats in the House becomes the leading party and forms a government. This system, in place before Confederation, was modeled on the British parliamentary system and was enacted to continue so under the BNA Act.
The United States is much different. Every four years to the day, the US voting public indirectly votes for a president-and-vice-president combination. When the public votes for a candidate, it actually votes for that candidate’s electors, making up the “Electoral College”. This “popular vote” is somewhat misleading because the popular vote actually selects “electors” in each state, who are chosen by each candidate’s party. Even if one party wins by a slim margin in a state, all of that state’s electors will represent that party. In theory, the Electoral College could elect a candidate from a different party than their own affiliation, but this is rare because many will pledge in advance to vote for their party.
The Electoral College usually represents the popular vote. So why the intermediary step? In 1787, the United States Constitutional Convention* decided upon this method of selecting a president. It seemed prudent to select a president as a combination of the uninformed public’s vote and of the legislature. One specific aim of this method was to reconcile the disparity between the public’s views on suffrage for slaves. Voters in the northern states were more open to suffrage than were their southern counterparts. Maybe this approach avoided social progress--tempered public will and maintained more traditional values or practices. On the other hand, maybe it soothed disparity between attitudes in the north and the south following the War of Independence.
Unfortunately, we don’t have time to adequately detail the many differences between Canada’s electoral system and the US’s. Click here to read Maclean’s magazine break it down further. In addition, check out this Globe and Mail article on how Canada’s prime ministers would have changed if we had an electoral college system. What are your thoughts on the electoral college? Comment below!
With sincerest regards,
*This was an actual physical convening of people to discuss the constitution, not a conventional practice that Canada uses with respect to its constitution.
 “Are there restrictions on who the Electors can vote for?”, US Electoral College, United States National Archives and Records Administration, online: <https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html#restrictions>.
 “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: US Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875”, American Memory, Library of Congress, online: <memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llfr&fileName=002/llfr002.db&recNum=60&itemLink=r?ammem/hlaw:@field%28DOCID+@lit%28fr00218%29%29%230020061&linkText=1>.