Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College?


Founding Fathers, Trust Issues and the Popular Vote

Because Electoral College voting does not necessarily reflect the vote of the American people, a president could be elected for whom the majority of Americans did not vote. In fact, it's happened five times already. For example, in 2000, 271 Electoral College votes out of 538 were cast for George W. Bush, who therefore won the presidential election even though he'd failed to garner the majority of popular votes [source: Gore].

So why would America need an Electoral College system that does not, at least some of the time, work the way it was intended? The decision rests solely on the framers of the Constitution and their somewhat surprising distrust of democracy. Instead of allowing for "one person, one vote" presidential elections -- as the democratic process would imply -- the founders opted to place the responsibility in the hands of a select few who "will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite so complicated an investigation," or so wrote Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist, No. 68 [source: League of Women Voters].

It wasn't that the American people weren't good decision-makers. Truth is, news didn't travel quickly (especially since telephones, televisions and the Internet had yet to be invented), and neither did the American people. Political leaders were known and supported primarily in specific regions and deciding a presidential election by popular vote would have led to national elections without widespread geographic balance.

Still, when a president is elected in spite of a popular vote in favor of another candidate, it appears trust issues remain -- and this time, they are on the part of the people. Critics decry the Electoral College as an arcane system that must be replaced, while supporters believe the Electoral College maintains a balance between state and federal government, as well as states of varying population sizes [source: England].

In light of mounting support for eliminating the Electoral College and allowing the popular vote to elect the next president instead, it seems the Electoral College will continue to be a hotly contested part of the American political process. A 2011 Gallup Poll reported 62 percent of Americans would forgo the Electoral College in favor of a "one person, one vote" election process [source: Saad]. It makes one wonder what the Founding Fathers would have to say about that. But then again, they could simply argue the point on their blogs.

Author's Note: Why does the U.S. have an electoral college?

Despite the fact that I'm well-informed about political candidates, vote in every election and have campaigned for local office, I know very little about the Electoral College. And while I certainly know more now than I did a few weeks ago, what still seems strange is the elector selection process. How exactly does one become an ideal candidate for the Electoral College? The idea of selecting someone without any clear-cut qualifications and with potential personal ties to candidates is fishy at worst and mysterious at best. At any rate, I think it deserves a much closer look, especially since we're voting for the electors -- whoever they are -- every time we cast a presidential ballot.

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Sources

  • England, Trent. "Eliminating the Electoral College Would Corrupt Our Elections." US News. Oct. 1, 2012. (Oct. 13, 2012) http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2012/10/01/eliminating-the-electoral-college-would-corrupt-our-elections
  • Gore, D'Angelo. "Presidents Willing Without Popular Vote." Fact Check. March 24, 2008. (Oct. 13, 2012) http://www.factcheck.org/2008/03/presidents-winning-without-popular-vote/
  • History. "Electoral College." (Oct. 12, 2012) http://www.history.com/topics/electoral-college
  • League of Women Voters. "Who Will Elect the President? The Electoral College System." (Oct. 13, 2012) http://www.lwv.org/content/who-will-elect-president-electoral-college-system
  • Saad, Lydia. "Americans Would Swap Electoral College for Popular Vote." Gallup. Oct. 24, 2011. (Oct. 13, 2012) http://www.gallup.com/poll/150245/americans-swap-electoral-college-popular-vote.aspx
  • U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. "Constitution of the United States." (Oct. 11, 2012) http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html
  • U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. "What is the Electoral College?" (Oct. 12, 2012) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html
  • U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. "What is the Electoral College? State Laws and Requirements." (Oct. 12, 2012) http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/laws.html

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