How does the Electoral College Work?
The Electoral College is a medium established by the founding fathers between the United States Congress and the people in order to agree on a new president. It replaced direct ballots in order to prevent a tyrant. The process involves five hundred thirty eight electors, which consist of two senators for each state and one person for each member in the House of Representatives. Together, these people decide the next American president by majority vote.
This essay will examine the Electoral College’s structure as well as it’s rationale and impact on the government and its citizens throughout the development of the nation.
The foundations of the Electoral College lie within the idea of preventing tyranny– a concept that America has strived to keep out of the government, as seen through its history with Britain. Another concern of the founding fathers is that the citizens wouldn’t be involved or informed enough to make the appropriate decision. Although only qualified citizens are allowed to vote, the average American does not have the same experience as a senator or representative of the House would have. For these reasons, the Founding Fathers made the executive decision to give the States the authority to appoint educated and experienced electors to vote on behalf of citizens that share their views. The concept of an Electoral College was opposed by an anonymous source in Federalist Paper No. 72, and was famously argued for by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Paper No. 68.
The founding fathers were afraid, not only of tyranny, but of the extremes of democracy. James Madison was worried about what he coined “factions”, which are populations of people with common interests which might potentially harm others, or even the nation. As a solution, Madison proposed a republic and integrated representation within the government. The function of the Electoral College is to preserve the essence of the American citizens, while ensuring that a president is chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” (Miller) Although this was the original intention in creating the Electoral College, today, this process is a formality at most due to the loyalties of most electors and those bound to vote according to the popular vote, decided by the people. President Trump, a modern day figure, says that the Electoral College is “different” and that he prefers the popular vote because “it’s much easier to win the popular vote”.
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A concern in utilizing the process of the Electoral College is the fear of losing the essence of the popular vote. This has happened four times throughout American history, and most recently in the Election of 2000 when Al Gore lost despite having 48.4% of the popular vote, opposed to 47.9% for George W. Bush. Statistics show that this was about a 500,00 vote margin. There was also a struggle over the count in Florida that reached the Supreme Court. Ultimately, Bush was declared the winner with 271 votes through the Electoral College– one more than the minimum to declare a majority vote.
The Electoral College process begins with the people, who vote for presidential electors by popular vote. These electors are then sent by each state to the United States capital to directly vote for the presidential candidates themselves on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December. In general, the winner of the each state’s popular vote receives all of the votes in the Electoral College and each state is assigned two Senate seats in addition to its reserved seats in the House of Representatives.
Due to the popularity and distribution of support required to become elected as president, the Electoral College does contribute to the unity of the country.Some believe that this distribution should carry more weight than just the popular vote due to saturation in any one state or area. The process also enhances the interests of minorities and special interest groups in the government since it allows them to make an impact on decisions being made. Minorities have more potential to impact they state they reside in, in comparison with the entire country. This in turn protects these groups and creates a “leverage effect”, forcing the presidency to give more consideration to these populations due to their impact. Aside from that, the Electoral College supports the political stability of the United States through its preservation of a two-part system, and thus defending a federal system of government and representation for the people.
Despite the advantages, the fault in the Electoral College arose from its foundation, which demonstrated a distrust in the people, and is therefore essentially against the democracy. Because of this lack of trust, even qualified American citizens are kept from having a direct say in their nation’s leader, and will potentially lead to a president that the majority doesn’t support. Aside from this issue, presidential candidates have always been encouraged to concentrate their campaigns and keep their time and resources saturated in a handful of “battleground states”. Generally, all of these states are more heavily populated states where neither party has an overwhelming advantage. This means that some mega-states, such as California, Texas, and New York, are largely neglected due to their predetermined support for a certain party. States such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are typically more exposed to running candidates and their surrogates compared to the rest of the country combined. Due to political insight, smaller states that have electoral votes in the single digits are often left off campaign itineraries altogether, despite the fact that each citizen’s vote is supposed to have the same worth. Some candidates feel as if these states barely have any impact and are a waste of time and resources.
The Presidential Election of 1860 is a good representation of the difference between the Electoral College and the popular vote. During this election, John C. Breckinridge was the candidate representing the Southern Democratic party and Stephen A. Douglas was the Democratic representative. With votes concerning just these two, the popular vote favored Douglas with 1,380,202 votes against Breckinridge, who only had 847,953. Despite public opinion, Breckinridge ultimately had the upper hand because of his domination through the Electoral College. Breckinridge received 72 electoral votes, which trumps over the 12 electoral votes Douglas received. Aside from that, Abraham Lincoln was able to win against both of them, due to the controversy and split opinions on the topic of slavery. The Electoral College was split into those that supported slavery and those that didn’t and Lincoln ultimately acquired more votes than both of the Democratic candidates.