Constitutional FAQ Answer #159
Q159. "Wikipedia says 'The Electoral College elected Washington unanimously in 1789, and again in the 1792 election; he remains the only president to receive 100% of electoral votes.' Yet your Electoral College pages for those years show that other people got electoral votes. Can you explain the discrepancy?
A. The electoral college can be divided into two parts — the pre-12th Amendment part and the post-12th Amendment part. Before the 12th Amendment was passed, the members of the college cast two ballots for president. They had to be for different people, and at least one had to be from a different state than the elector. The winner was the person with the most votes, and the vice president was the person with the second most votes.
In the electoral college of 1788, every single elector voted for George Washington on one of their ballots. There were eleven other vote-getters, with John Adams garnering the most of the second ballots. This is seen as a unanimous vote for Washington, then, because every elector voted for him — there were 69 electors, and Washington got 69 votes. The other 69 votes were scattered among the other eleven.
The same thing essentially happened in the 1792 electoral vote. There were 132 electors, and 132 votes for Washington. Adams got the bulk of the second ballots, sharing them with three other men.
In no other pre-12th Amendment election did anyone get a vote from all of the electors. In the post-12th Amendment world, where separate ballots for the president and vice president are cast, there has never been an election where any person received every single vote cast. The closest anyone has come in the modern era is in 1936, when Franklin Roosevelt got 98.49% of the electoral votes.