Constitutional FAQ Answer #74
Q74. "The wording of the 12th amendment implies that the election of the Vice President is completely separate from that of the President. Should we not be able to vote for our choice of Vice President regardless of party affiliation? How long has this been going on?
A. The elections of President and Vice President are separate... in the Electoral College. Each elector submits a ballot for each. The key to your question is how are the electors chosen?
Each state can have its own rules, so I cannot speak to them all. Here in Vermont, we vote for a pair of names, nominating an elector who is, in theory at least, pledged to vote in the College for one person for President and for another for Vice President.
In truth, the people don't even need to be granted the right to vote for President and Vice President (though any state legislature that tried to take that right away would likely be impeached). Article 2, Section 1 says, in part:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress:
The 12th Amendment changes nothing in how electors are selected — just that there be separate ballots for President and Vice President. Prior to that, the President was the person with the most votes, and the Vice President was that person with the next most votes (with some caveats thrown in for non-majority and tie votes).
Once the general election has been held, and we've all voted for our electors, the Electoral College meets, casts its votes, transmits them to the President of the Senate, and that's that for another four years.