Why was the Electoral College Created?
When citizens of the United States vote in a Presidential election, they are making a choice to not only fill out a ballot and choose their desired candidate, but they are automatically becoming a part of the election process used to elect the next President and Vice President to those offices. Rather than using a direct vote system, where each individual’s vote is accounted for and added, the Framers developed a viable system that not only continues to represent and stand for the people, but continues to maintain their core beliefs of equal distribution of power while avoiding an overload of power in one branch due to a failed election process . Contrary to the popular belief that the Electoral College is a brilliant and well-established system, the reformers – those who wish to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote – believe that the Electoral College is an inadequate system due to its lack of equality amongst the states in the voting process . The underlying controversy over the Electoral College has led to a broader discussion and has scholars grappling over whether the Electoral College is a viable system that should continue to be used today.
Some of the lines of debate are drawn from these pressing questions: Is the Electoral College an antiquated system that should be replaced by the popular vote? And ultimately, is the Electoral College a failed system that should be reformed or abolished? Those against the Electoral College believe that it is an unfair system that should be a thing of the past because candidates can be elected as President and Vice President even though they do not win the national popular vote; however, those in support of the system believe that its focus is on equality amongst the states and should remain. The Electoral College is a valid, compatible and adequate mechanism used today that recognizes and maintains a relative balance regardless of the disparities in the population between the states, as well as compensates for and protects the small-states.
The Electoral College is an election mechanism developed by the framers of the Constitution used to elect the President and the Vice President of the United States. The Electoral College is a system that was developed to serve as a “compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.” Rather than a direct voting process through a national popular vote, where each individual’s votes are counted and the party with the majority of the votes wins, the Electoral College uses a winner-takes-all system where the popular vote is leveraged at the state level and the party with the majority vote earns the electoral votes for the candidates for that particular state. Each state has a certain number of electors to the Electoral College that when added together, total the 538 electors that make up the entirety of the Electoral College. Furthermore, “each state’s representation in the Electoral College is equal to its representation in Congress” . Each state has at least three electoral votes, but this number varies based on the number of representatives that particular state has in Congress . While the Electoral College is a complex system, it is a bullet-proof system that has been in continuous use by the United States since it was developed by the framers of the Constitution.
The Framers of the Constitution established the Electoral College system that has been the continued method for electing our president. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Framers had intended to develop an election process that would be supportive of their beliefs to maintain a separation of power amongst the branches and be representative of the people. Previously, the Framers favored towards a “legislative election” but that method was quickly thrown away due to its potential to cause issues within the election process through a “concentration of power in the legislative branch.” Ultimately this method did not support the Framer’s ideals of a separation of power because the branches of government would not have been independent from one another. Instead, the branches would rely more heavily on the other branches and power would not be separate.
While the Framer’s strongly desired to establish a process that reflected the choice and decision of the people, they had “to give the choice to the people at large” due to the impracticality of and fear of the direct vote method. The Framers believed that through a direct election of the President, where each vote is collected and counted, “there would be too much power and influence in one person” due to the directness of the election process. Ultimately, they “created a system of separation of power and checks and balances out of this fear of a concentrated power” . The Framers developed these systems to ensure that one branch would not overpower the others within the government. When one branch becomes too powerful, it is up to those other branches of government to control and rebalance the power amongst the branches.
For the past few years, debate and controversy have risen when it comes to discussing whether or not the Electoral College should still serve as the method to elect the President. According to Langley: “Although imperfect, the Electoral College has at least been excellent.” The Electoral College has not only withheld years of use, but continues to serve as the primary means of electing candidates into office. While it has had no failures and has withheld itself as a strong system, oppositions have been made as to whether it is reliable when it comes to equality in the voting process. Those against the Electoral College believe that it serves no purpose because it has no direct representation of the people, whereas those for it believe that it represents the people in a less direct manner because it takes the vote and represents it through the electoral voting process. Now, I will outline and discuss in depth both sides of the debate: the arguments both for and against the Electoral College and the reasons why it should continue to serve as our primary source for the election process or why it should be replaced or redeveloped.
Despite the ongoing debate surrounding the credibility of the Electoral College, it is a brilliantly crafted system that has been fundamental to our election process since it was developed. It is a very effective system that is core to the Framers desire to compensate for the variability in the populations amongst the states. The system not only protects the sparsely populated geographic areas of the United States but protects the small states from the large states as well. The Framers “feared that voters in states with larger populations would overwhelm voters in smaller states and by themselves determine the outcome of the election if the President was selected by direct election.” If a direct voting process were used, the largely populated states would automatically have a greater vote due to possessing a greater population over the smaller states. The Framers avoided a system of direct voting due to this difference in population size amongst the small states versus large states: “According to Madison, the ratio of population of the larger state, Virginia, to the smallest in population, Delaware, was about ten to one. With the Electoral College vote distribution, the ratio would be only four to one” . The Electoral College not only leveled the playing field amongst the states and ensured that the larger states did not overpower the smaller states in the voting process, but it sheltered the small states and protected them from the larger states.
Not only was there a divide between the population sizes of states, but there was a divide between whether or not a particular state was permitted to have slaves. The Framers “were concerned that the direct election of the President would cause a reduction in the relative influence of the South because of the large non-voting slave population.” Because the entirety of the slave population could not vote and the majority of the slave population was in the South, a direct election of the President would “minimize the amount of influence” that the southern states had in the election. Through the Electoral College system, “a state received electoral votes based in part on the number of slaves within it” , ensuring that the slaves were accounted for regardless that they were unable to vote in the election.
Contrary to the arguments in support of the Electoral College, those against continue to argue that the Electoral College is poorly structured and an impractical system for our country because it “fails to represent American democracy.”