I was reading over the US Constitution and Amendments when Amendment 12 jumped out at me.

I've always thought that Amendment 12 specifically said that Presidential Candidates and Vice Presidential Candidates had to be elected together, as opposed to the original system where the person who ended up being Vice President was simply the person who came in second place during the Presidential elections.

I discovered that I was incorrect. Re-reading Amendment 12, it seems that the intent is that the two candidates should be elected entirely separately of each other, specifically this quote:

[The Electors] shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each ...

The usage of the word distinct (it occurs twice) makes me think that we're voting, we shouldn't have to pick the president and VP together (as most ballots require you to). It should be possible to pick, for example, in 2008, McCain and Biden or Obama and Palin, in addition to McCain and Palin or Obama and Biden. (Third parties omitted because I don't remember who else was running in 2008.)

  • Interesting; I hadn't noticed that before. I can't find any examples of a supreme court case related to the issue so it has probably just never been challenged. Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 0:05
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    Just pointing out: Summarizing it as [the electorate] instead of [the electors] is explicitly the issue that the answers address.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 15:34

3 Answers 3


The electors voting on separate ballots for President and Vice President is actually what happens when the they meet in their state capitals on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December. They indeed cast separate ballots for President and Vice President on that date.

The individual political parties nominate their slate of electors at their state conventions. By state law or political party pledge, these electors, should they be awarded the votes for that state during Election Day, will vote their party's choice for President and Vice President.

In other words, the electors nominated by the Florida Democratic convention in 2012, when they met in December, voted for Barack Obama on their Presidential ballot, and separately voted for Joe Biden on their Vice Presidential ballot, because that's what the Democratic convention in Florida decided that's what their electors would do when they were awarded the votes. The US Constitution is actually a non-issue here because it only prescribes how and when the electors will choose President and Vice President. It does not, however, prescribe who they choose.

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)#Meetings


The “running mate” system is a mathematical artifact of the original Electoral College rules.

The intent of giving Electors two votes was the expectation that, with a lack of knowledge of candidates outside his state, a typical Elector would cast a vote for a “favorite son” from his own state, so a second vote was added to require a vote for a more nationally-known candidate.

In reality, national political parties developed early in US history. And it didn't take long for them to spot a strategic incentive of the two-vote system: If a party ran two candidates, from different states, then they could ask Electors to vote for both of them. That way, if the party had a majority of the electors, then they'd win the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency. (Obviously, this couldn't happen under a one-vote system, because then the party would split its votes and hand the election to its opponents.)

The Jefferson-Burr ticket of the Democratic-Republican party executed this plan successfully in 1800, with just one little hitch: With no distinction between first-choice and second-choice votes, the two winning candidates tied each other, so the House of Representatives had to choose who would be President and who would be Vice President.

So, Congress and the state legislatures pushed through a hasty rule patch in time for the 1804 election, to prevent this scenario from happening again.

The President and Vice-President are elected separately now. But, they're elected separately by the Electors. For average voters to have the chance to elect the positions separately, the state would need to find a slate of Electors pledged to a cross-party pair (e.g., Romney-Biden) and put it on the ballot. Although this is theoretically allowed by the Constitution, it's just not done.


Contrary to popular belief, the American citizens do not elect their president or vice president. They elect their states representative in the electoral college which then elects both positions separately on the behalf of their voters. That election is what the 12th ammendment is referring to.

However, in practice all candidates for the electoral college make a pledge to vote for the president candidate and vice president candidate endorsed by their party, which makes the actual elections of president and vice president just a formality.

When the US constitution would want the citizens to choose their president and vice president separately, it would require two separate electoral colleges, one for the president and one for the vice-president. However, when the 12th ammendment was made, this wasn't the intention.

Prior to the 12th, the candidate who got the most votes from the electoral college became president and the person with the second-most votes became vice-president. This had the drawback that it usually paired the top candidates of two rivaling parties which often disagreed on lots of important issues. This meant they couldn't work well together. The newer system under the 12th ammendment was designed to pair two candidates who have similar opinions and thus make a much better team.

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    "Contrary to popular belief"? How many voters in the US are really unfamiliar with the electoral college? Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 14:04
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    @ArtOfWarfare American presidental election campaigns usually have slogans like "Vote John Doe", not "Vote the electors who pledged to vote John Doe".
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 14:06
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    You wouldn't do very well as a guy who comes up with campaign slogans. Here, maybe this will make you happy, "Vote [...] John Doe". You can stylize the [...] so that it looks like decoration instead of a nod to the electoral college. Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 14:25
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    At least in my state, there's small print on the ballot that says that a vote for President & VP is really a vote for the slate of electors pledged to those candidates.
    – dan04
    Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 20:40
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    @dan04 That is true for my state as well. Also, I think Americans in general are pretty familiar with the concept of the electoral college system. They might not necessarily know all of the details of what would happen in a contested electoral college, but they're at least familiar with the fact that they're voting for a slate of electors pledged to vote for a particular ticket.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 20:20

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