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Ask Civics 101: Who Are Electors?

Sara Plourde/NHPR

Today's Civics 101 question: Who are electors?

Today we’re exploring the topic of electors, the 538 individuals who vote on the first monday after the second wednesday in December. This year that date is December 14th.

Read on, or listen to this short episode for the answer.

Do you have a question for the Civics 101 team? Click here to submit it.

It’s always good to remember that when you cast a ballot for a presidential candidate, you’re not really choosing that candidate. Rather, you’re selecting a slate of electors.

What is a slate?

A slate is a list of people chosen by each party in each state before the general election in November. Once the popular vote for a candidate is decided in a state (with the exception of Maine and Nebraska), it means that those people will officially cast their electoral ballots on the 14th. For example, here in New Hampshire we have four electors. The office of the Secretary of State has published the 12 potential electors; four Democrat, four Republican, and four Libertarian. Since President-elect Joe Biden won the popular vote in New Hampshire, the four electors from the Democratic Party will be the ones to vote next week.

(Here are links to the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian slates from the Granite State.)

In Maine and Nebraska, the winner of the popular vote in the state gets two electoral votes, and the winner in each of the congressional districts gets an additional vote. This November Joe Biden got three electoral votes in Maine and one in Nebraska, while Donald Trump got one in Maine and four in Nebraska.

Also, in some states, the names from each slate are actually on the ballot. You would cast your vote by selecting the candidate, but you would see the list of electors below each candidate’s name.

Who gets to be an elector?

Jessie Kratz from the National Archives told us “the Constitution contains very few provisions relating to the qualifications of electors. Basically no senator or representative or person holding an office of trust or profit” can be an elector. So no federal office holders, no political appointees, no federal judges. Other than that, anyone can be an elector.

The process varies between states, but electors are usually chosen at the state party conventions. It’s a recognition of people who have done work for the party, an acknowledgment of their dedication and service. It could be a state party leader, or even a former president.

Electors don’t have to be at their state convention to be chosen. We spoke with Marseille Allen, lead agent with the Michigan Department of Corrections, human rights activist, and elector for the Democratic Party in Michigan. Marseille told us she found out she was going to be an elector via text message.

When we asked Marseille about how it felt to be asked to cast that vote on the 14th, she said “it's an honor to be part of it. It's almost bittersweet. You know, the three fifths compromise was actually because of the Electoral College. People need to understand that my ancestors were not even considered a full human. So as an African-American woman who's voting for a woman of African and Indian descent to be vice president, of course, and Vice President elect Joe Biden, I wouldn't be surprised if I became emotional because of it.”

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Nick has been the co-host and Education Outreach Producer for Civics 101 since 2018, where he creates episodes and works with teachers across the country to design lesson plans to pair with the show.
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