12th Amendment: commentary

This amendment recognized a new development in U.S. politics unforeseen by the Framers: the emergence of the party system. When the Constitution was originally written and ratified, both the president and vice president were chosen by election, as they are now, but with one major difference. The candidate who received the largest number of votes became president. The runner-up—the candidate receiving the second largest number of votes—was chosen as vice-president. This was not a problem if the top two candidates had similar views and could work together well, but what if they were political opponents? The shortcomings of this arrangement soon become obvious!

Since the original laws regarding Presidential elections soon became obsolete, this amendment was passed to replace them. Nowadays, each political party nominates its own candidates for President and Vice President. They are known as running mates. Whichever candidate wins the Presidential election has his or her running mate as Vice President.

Who are the “Electors”? They are members of the “Electoral College,” or the group of people who actually choose the president and vice-president. That is a separate and very complicated topic in itself.