Why do we have the Electoral College?

We have had but one new constitutional amendment since 1971.


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Julie, who I known for a number of years, asked:
Do you think the US will ever get rid of the electoral college and go to something different? Why is it still done this way?

The second question is easier than the first, so let’s start with that. The original reason for the EC, like so much of the Constitution, was a compromise. As this article shows, “One idea was to have the Congress choose the president.” But that was rejected, for good reason. Even then, they didn’t trust Congress to do the right thing. Also, many felt that “arrangement would upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.”

Another thought was “to have the State legislatures select the president.” This idea, too, was wisely rejected out of fear that “a president so beholden to the State legislatures might permit them to erode federal authority and thus undermine the whole idea of a federation.” As you may know, the state legislatures used to pick US Senators in their states until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, and there are some folks that want to return to the old system; it won’t happen.

Naturally, electing President elected by a direct popular vote was considered but ultimately rejected. It was “not because the Framers of the Constitution doubted public intelligence,” though many have suggested that. Rather, the Founders “feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their State, people would naturally vote for a ‘favorite son’ from their own State or region.” You may laugh, given the overwhelming information now available, but 18th century Internet was the local newspapers and pamphlets.

“At worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous States with little regard for the smaller ones.” Four of the first five Presidents were from Virginia, one of the largest states of the day.

Finally, they came up with the College of Electors to choose the President. “The original idea was for the most knowledgeable and informed individuals from each State to select the president based solely on merit and without regard to State of the origin or political party.” The intent has been largely altered by the law requiring electors to vote for the candidate with the most votes in their states. Read this article from the Federalist (not to be confused with Federalist Papers), titled, “The Electoral College Still Makes Sense Because We’re Not A Democracy.”

As for the problem of “Will it change?” the answer is maybe. On one hand, we have had but one new constitutional amendment since 1971, when the 26th Amendment allowed 18-year olds to vote. The 27th Amendment, which was initiated in 1789 but not ratified until 1992: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” So it’s difficult to change the Constitution.

The recent technological attacks against the United States have pointed out the vulnerabilities of our electoral process, with a number of states with no paper backup. I think this issue needs to be addressed very soon because, in the case of a close election, it’ll make EC reform easier to accept.

There are groups that support the popular vote initiative. National Popular Vote is keeping track of the progress of bills in the various state legislatures. Check out their YouTube videos. If you want this amendment to be in effect in 2020, you and your friends need to be bugging your members of Congress AND your state legislators. NOW.
The election will NOT be ‘rigged’

EDIT: While it IS true we don’t need a Constitutional amendment to “fix” the Electoral College, we also didn’t NEED one to allow states to allow women to vote. States were doing this on their own. I find amendment, rather than laws that can be more easily changed more reassuring.


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