Electoral College


This has become a very hot topic after the 2016 Presidential Election when one candidate (Donald Trump) lost the popular vote but won the electoral college votes.  Since this runs counter the primary tenant of democracy (rule by the majority), it is important to know the history of the Electoral College, including how it came about and its original purpose


What it is not:


We want to begin by pointing out that the Electoral College was NOT established for some moral, or ethical reason.  We say this, because we see many online sites who appear to think it is a "good" idea to have the Electoral College, because it is "good" to give more power to the less populated states.  That was not the driving force behind the creation of the Electoral College.


What it is (stated briefly):


The Electoral College (as created by the 1787 Constitutional Convention) is a buffer between the popular vote and the actual election of a President, and a concession to less populated states (primarily slave states that otherwise wouldn't vote for the constitution), which were given more electoral votes per capita than the more populated states.  These two purposes are explained more fully below.


How it came about:.


The Constitutional Convention of 1787 decided to establish three branches of representative government.  Congress and the President were to be elected.  The question was: how to elect the President.  The members of the convention sought a pragmatic and practical way to secure agreement from everyone


There were several possible ways to select a President, including simple selection by congress, or by the governors of the states, or state legislatures, or by some sort of special committee of Members of Congress selected by lot, or simply by a direct popular election.  In the end, a special Committee of Eleven (which included Hamilton and Madison) set out to find a solution.  What they came up with was the Electoral College, which was accepted and put in the Constitution.


Why an Electoral College:


There were two reasons that were most evident, a buffer between the voting population and the election of the President, and a means for satisfying less populated states, especially those that relied on slave labor, who otherwise were not inclined to accept the constitution (the development of two separate houses in Congress was also part of this effort to get those states on board.




While the framers of the Constitution rejected autocracy (e.g., a king) and preferred a form of representative government, they did not entirely trust the general public.  They were far from the first to feel this form of apprehension (Plato wrote about it in The Republic).  John Adams referred to it as a possible tyranny of the majority.  What scared them was the possibility a popular election would result in someone unfit for the position becoming President. 


Less populated states:


In order to secure support for the new Constitution, the framers arrived at a pragmatic solution.  They would attempt to balance the less populated states with those with higher populations.  For the most part, these less populated states were slave states.  So they provided for two things: a Senate where all states had the same number of senators and an Electoral College where the less populated states were given a higher number of Electors than they would have received strictly based on population.


To to read the Federalist 68 in which Alexander Hamilton explains the reason for an Electoral College


A matter of ethics:  We see many online sites that appear to think it is a "good" idea to have the Electoral College, because it is "good" to give more power to the less populated states.  In other words, they think the way the Electoral College works is "good."


Well, it is true that those who designed the electoral college thought it could do "good," BUT that was in terms of preventing an unqualified, inappropriate person from being elected President.  It was NOT because it gave more power to less populated states.


These days, many who support the Electoral College don't do so in terms of preventing a "bad" president.  They favor the notion that it is "good" for people in less populated states to have a greater say in the election than those in more populated states.


What it all boils down to: When you say a person in a less populated state should have more say in the election of the President, you are saying that where a person lives counts more than who the person is (and support, or lack of support for President).


Not everyone shares this value system.  While the Electoral College was intended to prevent the "tyranny of the majority," they see it allowing the "tyranny of the minority."


Elimination of the Electoral College: Since there have been two recent elections in which a candidate for President got less votes than his opponent, there has arisen considerable discussion, pro and con concerning the value and/or need for this institution.  Some concerns correctly point out that the nature of Presidential elections and the Electoral College itself have gone through changes since the Constitution was first adopted.


There are those who point out that eliminating the Electoral College and relying strictly on the popular vote will bring about some changes (possibly major changes) in how campaigns are run and Presidents elected.  While this may be true, it is important to note that that is how all other major political offices are filled (popular vote), from state governors on down, and those elections have been just fine.


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