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
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
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
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
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
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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