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Electoral college

This article is about electoral colleges in general. For other uses, see Electoral college (disambiguation).
File:Choropath Map 2012a.svg
Presidential Election Votes by State, 2012

An electoral college is a set of electors who are selected to elect a candidate to a particular office. Often these represent different organizations or entities, with each organization or entity represented by a particular number of electors or with votes weighted in a particular way. Many times, though, the electors are simply important people whose wisdom would ideally provide a better choice than a larger body. The system can ignore the wishes of a general membership.

Origins of electoral colleges

Early Germanic law stated that the German king led only with the support of his nobles. Thus, Pelayo needed to be elected by his Visigothic nobles before becoming king of Asturias, and so did Pepin the Short by Frankish nobles in order to become the first Carolingian king. While most other Germanic nations had developed a strictly hereditary system by the end of the first millennium, the Holy Roman Empire did not, and the King of the Romans, who would become Holy Roman Emperor or at least Emperor-elect, was selected by the college of prince-electors from the late Middle Ages until 1806 (the last election took place in 1792).

Church, both the clergy and laity, elected the bishop or presiding presbyter. However, for various reasons, such as a desire to reduce the influence of the state or the laity in ecclesiastical matters, electoral power became restricted to the clergy and, in the case of the Church in the West, exclusively to a college of the canons of the cathedral church. In the Pope's case, the system of people and clergy was eventually replaced by a college of the important clergy of Rome, which eventually became known as the College of Cardinals. Since 1059, it has had exclusive authority over papal selection.

In the 19th century and beyond, it was usual in many countries that voters did not directly vote the members of parliament. In Prussia for example, in 1849–1918 the voters were Urwähler (original voters), appointing with their vote a Wahlmann (elector). The group of electors in a district elected the deputy for the Prussian House of Representatives. Such indirect suffrage was a means to steer the voting, to make sure that the electors were "able" persons. For electors, the requirements were usually higher than for the original voters. The left wing opposition was very much opposed to indirect suffrage.

Even today in the Netherlands, the deputies of the First Chamber are elected by the provincial parliaments. Those provincial parliaments form the electoral colleges for the First Chamber elections; the lists of candidates are national.

Modern electoral colleges

The breakdown of votes in the U.S. Electoral College after redistricting based on the 2010 census.

Countries with complex regional electorates may elect a head of state by means of an electoral college rather than a direct popular election. The United States is the only current example of an indirectly elected executive president,[citation needed] with an electoral college comprising electors representing the 50 states and the federal district. Each state has a number of electors equal to its Congressional representation (in both houses), with the non-state District of Columbia receiving three electors and other non-state territories having no electors.[1] The electors generally cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in their respective states.[citation needed] However, there are several states where this is not required by law. In the United States, 270 electoral votes are required to win the presidential election.[citation needed]

Similar systems are used or have been used in other presidential elections around the world. The President of Finland was elected by an electoral college between 1919 and 1987.[citation needed] In Germany the members of the federal parliament together with an equal number of people elected from the state parliaments constitute the Federal Convention, that exists for the only purpose of electing the (non-executive) head of state.[2] Similarly, in India the members of the lower house of Parliament together with weighted votes from the state parliaments elect the head of state.[3] In Italy the presidential electoral college is composed of the members of both houses of Parliament and three members elected by each of the regional assemblies.[citation needed] During Brazil's military rule period, the president was elected by an electoral college comprising senators, deputies, state deputies, and lawmakers in the cities.[citation needed] Argentina had an electoral college established by its original 1853 constitution, which was used to elect its president during that country's periods of democracy.[4] The constitution was reformed in 1994 and the electoral college was replaced with a direct election by popular vote with runoff round.[citation needed] In France, the first presidential election of the French Fifth Republic was the only French presidential election where the winner was determined via an electoral college.[citation needed]

Other countries with electoral college systems include Burundi, Estonia,[5] India,[6] France (for the French Senate), and Italy. In Italy the Italian president is elected by an electoral college composed of members of both houses of Parliament and 58 person nominated by the regional councils. The Republic of Ireland (for Seanad Éireann), Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago [7] and Vanuatu also have some form of electoral college system in effect. Within China, both Macau[8] and Hong Kong each have an Election Committee which functions as an electoral college for selecting the Chief Executive and formerly (in the case of Hong Kong) for selecting some of the seats of the Legislative Council.[citation needed]

Another type of Electoral College is used by the British Labour Party to choose its leader. The college consists of three equally weighted sections: the votes of Labour MPs and MEPs; the votes of affiliated trade unions and socialist societies; and the votes of individual members of Constituency Labour Parties.[9]

Ecclesiastical electoral colleges abound in modern times, especially among Protestant and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches. In the Eastern rite churches, all the bishops of an autocephalous church elect successor bishops, thus serving as an electoral college for all the episcopal sees.[citation needed]


  1. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ The Federal President and the Federal Convention – retrieved on 16 January 2015
  3. ^ Constitution of India 84th Amendment – retrieved on 16 January 2015
  4. ^ The The Constitution of Argentina of 1853, 32nd to 63rd Articles – retrieved on 16 January 2015
  5. ^ Constitution of Estonia, section 79 – retrieved on 4 April 2008
  6. ^ Constitution of India, articles 54 and 66 – retrieved on 4 April 2008
  7. ^ Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, section 28 – retrieved on 4 April 2008
  8. ^ Austin Ramzy (9 July 2014). "Macau Activists Plan Hong Kong-Style Poll on Greater Democracy". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Labour Party Rule Book rule 4B.2c – quoted in House of Commons Research Note SN/PC/3938: Labour Party Leadership Elections retrieved 6 February 2008

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