The Electoral College is the statutory system in the United States for the election of the In 1787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Constitution of the United States was created. Before the Constitutional Convention, the United States had been governed under the Articles of Confederation.
The Articles of Confederation was a weak central government. At the Constitutional Convention, the Founding Fathers were trying to create a rule of law governing the election of a President in a nation that was made up of thirteen large and small states who were jealous of the rights and powers each possessed. They were suspicious of any central government. The framers of the Constitution regarded the Electoral College as part of a method for electing the President indirectly by the people.
The Electoral College system was established in Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution. The Electoral College was created for several different reasons. Before the Electoral College was assembled, there was a weak two-party system which could have allowed for a divide in the vote.
A candidate that most of the popular vote didn’t prefer could become the President if there were many regional candidates. There was a lack of information about candidates at that time because the nation contained only four million people cast up and down the Atlantic coast and they had a difficult time traveling and communicating. There was a need to have a strong leadership for the head of our government. The Electoral College settled the problem of the distrust between common men in making a good selection for President. The Electoral College works in a straightforward way. It requires a distribution of popular support to be elected president.
The American people do not actually vote for the President on election day but, rather, we vote for a slate of Electors who are pledged to the candidate. These Electors are chosen by their respective parties and are certified by the State Director of Elections. The election is decided by a majority of the total electoral college vote. Presidential electors meet in their respective state capitals in December to cast their electoral votes to be officially counted in Washington in January.
The electors vote by ballot separately for President and Vice President. A majority of electoral votes is needed for the election as President. The winner is sworn in on Inauguration Day. The Electoral College is currently made up of 538 electors and 270 votes are required to be elected. Since Electoral College representation is based on congressional representation, states with larger populations get more Electoral College votes. Each state is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of its United States Senators, which is always two, in addition to the number of its United States Representatives. United States Representatives are divided among the states based on the size of the states population, which is determined by the census. (Burr)
Every state holds a winner-take-all popular vote for electors except Maine and Nebraska. In these two states, electors are chosen by statewide popular vote and the remainder by the popular vote within each Congressional district. This process prevents the breaking of political parties, gives the winner of presidential elections a mandate to govern, works against third party candidates, and forces major party candidates to address issues which are a concern to a majority of Americans.(Boehner)
The electoral vote of each state is cast as a unit and the favorable presidential and vice presidential nominees in each state win the states entire electoral vote. With this system, elected presidents acquire a greater percentage of the electoral vote than of the popular vote. (Encyclopedia Americana)
In certain elections, the Electoral College system can create a close election. The first constitutional crisis came to pass in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received an equal number of electoral votes. The electors, in voting for Jefferson or Burr, had not specified whether their vote was for president or vice president. Therefore, despite his being his party’s vice presidential candidate, Burr had as many votes for the office of President as Jefferson had.
The Constitution provides that in a case where a candidate doesn’t win a majority of the electoral votes, the election must be determined by the House of Representatives by ballot from the three candidates standing highest in electoral votes. The combined representatives of each state get one vote and a simple majority of states is required to win. This has only happened twice. Presidents Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1825 were elected by the House of Representatives. If no one obtains an absolute majority for vice president, then the U.S. Senate makes the selection from among the top two contenders for that office. Jefferson received 36 ballots and he won the race for presidency in the election of 1800.
As a result of this election, the 12th Amendment was added to the Constitution to sensibly prevent this from happening again. The 12th Amendment specifies that electors are to name in their ballots the person voted for as President and Vice President. These cases in United States’ constitutional history remind us of the significant role that the Electoral College plays in electing a President. (NARA) There are pro’s and con’s to the Electoral College.
The positive aspects of the Electoral College are that it requires a distribution of popular support to be elected President, it strengthens the status of minority groups, and it enhances the political stability of the nation by promoting a two-party system. Without the Electoral College, Americans living in smaller states could lose their voice in our nation’s government. It forces candidates to attend to the differing opinions found in the far-reaches of this nation. It carries participants to the electoral table who would otherwise not be invited, simply because they do not live in big cities. (Burr)
The negative aspects of the Electoral College are that there is a possibility of electing a minority president and there is a chance of having electors who won’t be loyal to their party or candidate. Another nonsensical aspect of the Electoral College is that it may depress voter turnout because each state is entitled to so many electoral votes regardless of voter turnout. There is no incentive for states to encourage voter participation, and the Electoral College does not accurately reflect the national popular will because it does not elect a candidate by a direct popular vote.
There are many reforms and proposed changes for the Electoral College that are currently being discussed. The first is the Direct Election Plan. With this plan, who ever wins the most popular vote becomes President. The candidate must win 215 electoral votes. If there is no winner, there is a run-off election with the two candidates that had the most popular votes. This is the best plan for eliminating all of the weaknesses of the Electoral College. It is more democratic and every vote counts in the selection of the President. The next plan is the District Plan. Who ever wins the popular vote of that Congressional District gets that electoral vote. The winner of the popular vote for the whole state gets the two Senatorial electoral votes.
The candidate is required to win 270 electoral votes. This is the best plan for representing minorities and it corrects most of the weaknesses and abuses of the Electoral College. The last plan is the Proportional Plan. The candidate gets the same percent of the electoral vote as they get in the popular vote. There is no Electoral College present in this plan. Candidates are required to win 215 electoral votes. If there is no winner, the vote goes to Congress and they select from the three candidates with the most popular vote. With this plan, every vote counts as part of an electoral vote.
However, this is the most expensive plan of the group and there are a lot of weaknesses in the structure of it. The Electoral College system may not be perfect, but it has led to over 200 years of political stability. There have been some instances when a President has been elected even though he wasn’t the popular choice, but the positive aspects that are given to the election process by having the Electoral College far outweigh the few mistakes.
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- “Electoral College in General.” National Archives and Records Administration. May 1996, http://www.nara.gov/fedreg/elctcoll/ec-artcl.html (13 Dec. 2000).
- “What is the Electoral College?.” Santa Cruz County Elections Department. March 2000, http://www.votescount.com/books/elecollege.htm (15 Jan. 2001).
- Burr, Richard. “The Electoral College: Protector of State’s Rights” The Electoral College. November 2000, http://www.house.gov/burr/Newsroom/opedECNov2000.htm (5 Jan. 2001).
- Boehner, John. “Why the Electoral College Matters.” John Boehner’s Weekly Column. 10 Nov. 2000. http://www.house.gov/boehner/2000/001110c.htm (15 Jan. 2001).