Apr 25 2016

Background of the Electoral College

Bashing the Electoral College has become popular, using the rationale that it is an outdated and un-democratic means for electing a president.

The Electoral College is an intermediary between the vote of the people and the election of the President of the United States. A population proportionate number of electoral delegates (just like the House of Representatives) are selected by popular vote, with some variation of state rules regarding allocation. Most states allocate electors on a “winner take all” basis, meaning whichever candidate wins the popular vote for the states is awarded all of the electors. Maine and Nebraska award electors on the basis of congressional districts.

The system of electoral delegates makes it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote but lose the election in the Electoral College. This has actually occurred four times.

We tend to believe that we live in a democracy and have a right to vote for our President. Neither of these notions is true. Our form of government is a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy. And in our Constitution, which is “the supreme law of the land”, there is no allocation of a right to vote for President. The Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, clause 2, says, “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 right to select the President has been specifically given to the States, not to the public via popular vote. If the states decide to use popular vote as a means to select their electors, they may do so, but they are not bound to that process. In fact, in history, popular vote was not used at all in the first elections. 1824 was the first election that included selecting electors by popular vote and by 1836, all states except South Carolina had adopted that method and South Carolina joined them in 1860.

In the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, one of the main areas of debate and compromise was in how to distribute power effectively and create checks and balances to prevent power from coagulating into tyranny. Congress was split into two different branches (the House and the Senate) with the intent of providing a different form of representation in each body. The House was to represent the people and would be elected by popular vote. The Senate was to represent the states and would be elected by the state legislatures. It was considered that the President should be elected by the Governors of the States. Also considered were election by Congress, election by state legislature, and election by popular vote.

The idea of using an electoral college was chosen to provide for election by a knowledgeable and informed group with some insulation from the other branches and potential corruption, while still protecting the power of the states.

The slow decay of the electoral college using popular vote and the 17th Amendment changing the election of Senators from the state legislature to popular vote have undermined the balance of power between the states and the Federal government, with the predictable growth of the Federal government into a behemoth that is near being beyond counter balance by the states.