The Constitution and American Elections
Presidential elections shine the spotlight on the Constitution and its role in shaping American politics and culture like no other regular event in the country’s national life. While the country has frequent and plentiful elections, the election of the president and the vice-president is the only instance in which the Constitution convenes a national electorate to choose a leader.
Yet the Constitution convenes this election amidst characteristic ambiguities regarding voting and elections in the United States. To paraphrase UT Austin adjunct law professor Steve Weinberg in one of our featured video clips, the Constitution is largely silent on the issue of voting, leaving the matter to the states and, eventually, to be taken up by Congress and the courts. Yet another central institution of the electoral system, the Electoral College, remains largely intact from the original Constitution. If presidential elections invite us to view the United States as a nation unified under one executive, the indirect mechanics of the Electoral College, where the Constitution assigns electors to each state based on their total representation in Congress, inevitably turns the national focus back to the individual states.
With the elections looming, we spoke with two experts with different intellectual perspectives on the Constitution for our 2008 addition to the University of Texas at Austin Constitution Day website. Both Steve Bickerstaff, an Adjunct Law Professor at the UT - Austin School of Law, and Zachary Elkins, as Assistant Professor in the Department of Government, discussed various aspects of voting and elections within the framework of the US Constitution.
Excerpts from these interviews are available in captioned versions for viewing on your computer as well as downloadable versions for portable players that will also play in large windows on your desktop. Viewing the segments below requires the QuickTime video player. Download QuickTime.