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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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, ideally, would provide a better choice than a larger body. The system can ignore the wishes of a general membership, whose thinking need not be considered.


Origins of electoral colleges

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 could 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 actually took place in 1792).

Christianity also used electoral colleges in ancient times, until late antiquity (AD 300–600). Initially, the entire membership of a particular church, both the clergy and laity, elected the bishop or chief presbyter. However, for various reasons such as a desire to reduce the influence of the state or the laity in church matters, electoral power became restricted to the clergy and, in the case of the Western Church, 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 evolved into the College of Cardinals. Since 1059, it has had exclusive authority over papal selection.

Modern electoral colleges

The breakdown of votes in the U.S. Electoral College after redistricting based on the 2000 census.

Some nations with complex regional electorates 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, with an electoral college comprising electors representing the 50 states and one federal district. Each state has a number of electors equal to its total Congressional representation (in both houses), with the non-state District of Columbia receiving three electors and other non-state territories having no electors. The electors generally cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in their respective states, but in some states are not required by law to do so.

Similar systems are used or have been used in other presidential elections around the world. For example, the short-lived Confederate States of America (1861-1865) provided for election of its president in virtually the same manner as set out in the U.S. Constitution[citation needed]. The President of Finland was elected by an electoral college between 1919 and 1987. In Germany and India, the members of the lower house of Parliament together with an equal number of members (Germany) or weighted votes (India) from the state parliaments elect the non-executive President of the Republic, while 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.

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.[1]

During Brazil's military rule period, the president was elected by an electoral college comprising senators, deputies, state deputies, and lawmakers in the cities. 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. The constitution was reformed in 1994 and the electoral college was replaced with a direct election by popular vote with runoff round.[citation needed]

Other countries with electoral college systems include Burundi, Estonia,[2] India,[3] France, Ireland (for the French Senate and Seanad Éireann, respectively), Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Pakistan, and Trinidad and Tobago[4]. Hong Kong also has such a system.

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


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Constitution of Estonia, section 79 - retrieved on 4 April 2008
  3. ^ Constitution of India, articles 54 and 66 - retrieved on 4 April 2008
  4. ^ Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, section 28 - retrieved on 4 April 2008

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