On Tuesday, November 6th, 2012, the United States of America will be organising a Presidential elections that has been considered to be very close to call by election watchers.
Seeking his second term, the current Democrat President, Barack Obama appears to be engaged in a fierce struggle for the seat with Republican Mitt Romney than he did in 2008 when he engineered a campaign that changed the history of American politics by being the first African American to ascend the high throne in the White House in Washington.
As voters prepare to make a national decision that has unique global consequences, poll watchers and some if not most Americans are apprehensive of the outcome. With polls showing a close election, concern about the possibility of revisiting the 2000 contest between then vice President of the Democratic Party, Al Gore and former Governor of Texas, George Walker Bush, the US system of electing the President and Vice President through an Electoral College has come under critical lenses from within and outside the country.
This piece therefore contextualises the US elections through Ghanaian Political lenses under the Fourth Republican Constitution of 1992. The US unlike Ghana practices a federal system of constitutional democracy whereas Ghana practices a unitary system of constitutional democracy that is considered a hybrid of the Presidential and Parliamentary systems of political governance.
How does the US elect her President? Unlike Ghana which has a “one man one vote” system of electing the President and the Vice President, the US President and vice are elected through an Electoral College. While in Ghana the party or candidate who wins the popular vote (highest number of votes) wins the Presidential seat, in the US the party or candidate that wins the Electoral College vote (at least 270) wins the presidential seat.
The big question? What is an Electoral College, who are the members and how are they selected?
According to the US Federal Register, the Electoral College is a process established by the founding fathers in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.
The Electoral College process consists of 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. Currently there are a total of 538 electors (total number of people in the Electoral College) and each state is allocated electors based on the combined number of US House and Senate members.
By this California has the largest number of Electoral College votes of 55 made up of its 53 House of Representatives seats (because of population size) plus 2 Senate seats while seven states have the minimum of 3. The members of the Electoral College are selected by state party officials.
How does the Electoral College decide the elections?
At the end of counting of votes in each state the party or candidate that wins the popular votes in the state is awarded all the Electoral College votes for the State.
That is a winner takes all system is applied at the state level to award the Electoral College votes to a candidate. So for instance in 2008, although candidate Barack Obama received 49.29% of the votes in Missouri and candidate McCain received 49.43%, all the 11 electoral college votes of the State was awarded to McCain.
This process is applied in all the 50 states till one candidate reaches 270 or more of the Electoral College votes except in Maine and Nebraska, where two electors are chosen by state wide popular vote and the remainder by the popular vote within each congressional district. Each elector gets one vote. Thus, a state with eight electors would cast eight votes.
What does a candidate need to win? There are currently 538 electors and the votes of a majority of them -- 270 votes -- are required to be elected. Although the popular vote is important, winning 270 or more Electoral College votes decides who goes to the White House.
Where are the key votes? In the run up to the elections several polls are conducted to show which party or candidate has captured which state. In recent US elections the strongholds (how residents predominantly vote) of the Republican Party is referred to as Red state while that of the Democratic Party is referred to as the blue state.
However a third colour purple is used to refer to states where both Democratic and Republican candidates receive strong support without an overwhelming majority of support for either party. These are often referred to as battleground states (swing) and areas that will decide the winner of the elections.
In the 2012 elections about eleven states have been listed as being battleground and the candidates have spent the last campaign days in these areas. These states include: Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Nevada and Michigan.
What if no presidential candidate wins a majority of electoral votes? In the event that no one obtains an absolute majority of electoral votes for president, the U.S. House of Representatives selects the president from among the top three contenders, with each state casting only one vote and an absolute majority of the states being required to elect. This has happened twice in American history.
Are Barack Obama and Mitt Romney the only candidates in the 2012 Presidential Elections? No. There are a total of 12 candidates on the ballot including Obama and Romney.
How the US elections system will plug out in the Ghanaian Political context In Ghana the Electoral College can be referred to as delegates selected by the contesting parties in the elections in each region to confirm their nominees for post of president and vice president once they win the elections in the region.
Using the 10 regions in Ghana as States and the constituencies as total number of Electoral College votes, Ghana would have a total of 275 (based on constituencies for 2012 elections) electors forming its Electoral College. For instance the Ashanti region with 47 constituencies like California in the US will have the largest number of Electors while the Upper West region with 11constituencies will have the least.
Based on the results of all five elections organized in Ghana since 1992, it is clear that Ghana has is fair share of blue and red states – which is referred to as strongholds.
Thus per the results of 1992-2008, the Ashanti and Eastern Regions will be blue states because they predominantly vote for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) while the Upper East & West, Northern and Volta regions will be green states because they predominantly vote for the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
By this, the Western, Brong Ahafo, Central and Greater Accra regions could be described as battle grounds (swing states - no party has won all five presidential elections in these region). It is important to note that the analysis is focused purely on presidential not parliamentary elections for illustration.
While in Ghana a candidate need 50% plus one vote to win the presidential elections, in the US you need at least 270 electoral votes. Under the system there is no second round in the presidential elections. It can only occur at the state level where there is an undisputable tie and therefore the need for a tie breaker.
Thus per the Electoral College system the party or candidate that wins the most votes in a region wins all the Electoral College votes.
If this system was to be applied in the two presidential run-offs in Ghana, candidate John Kufour would have won both the popular and electoral votes in 2000 while in 2008, candidate Nana Akufo-Addo would have won the popular vote but candidate John Atta-Mills would have won the electoral college votes hence the Presidential seat in the first round.
Based on the hypothetical Electoral College, by winning the popular votes in 4 regions, Nana Addo would have secured 113 Electoral College votes while Atta-Mills who won in 6 regions would have secured 117 Electoral College votes which would have been one more than the 116 needed.
What are the concerns? As complicated as it looks, proponents have argued strongly that the discrepancies between the popular vote and the electoral college has become an issue only three times in the 56 quadrennial US elections under the system and therefore may not be a big issue.
The most dispute was in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College votes to Walker Bush. opponents however argue that it allows for a candidate who loses the popular vote to win and discourages voter turnout by making people feel their vote does not make a difference in non competitive states.
So while voters in America vote on elections day on November 6, 2012, in reality it will be the electoral college who will actually vote on the Monday following the second Wednesday of December (i.e. Monday, Dec. 17, 2012), where the state electors meet in their respective state capitals to cast one electoral vote for president and one for vice president.
Who wins the most coveted political position in the world? Till the results have been declared it is too close to call.