The Electoral College is one of a kind. No other country uses this system to elect their leaders – in fact, no other American politician or judge is elected using an electoral college – they all get elected via majority vote. Only the President of the U.S. is chosen with this cumbersome system. Throughout American history, the presidential candidate with the most votes has lost the electoral vote 4 times, twice lately (in 2000 and 2016). So why do we have it?
Some textbooks and teachers (including this one!) have said that the Framers of the Constitution didn’t trust the American voter to pick the right candidate, so someone else should pick the president. Hence, charges of elitism. Others have claimed that the EC protects the small states from being overrun by the larger states in an election, where a candidate from a small state would never get elected. While others claim that the EC has its roots in racism and the protection of the slave states who feared that the Northern states would dominate the South b/c there were more voters in the North than in the South (based upon landownership). But, before we get going any further, please watch this video for a better understanding of the Electoral College, what it is, and how it works. It also includes some arguments for and against it.
To counter the argument that the Framers were elitist, one must remember that only landowners were the voters (except in Massachusetts where all males had the right to vote), supposedly the best people in the community and not the “rabble” that some have characterized American voters were in 1787. The Framers most likely didn’t trust local politicians given the insanity that happened between 1781 – 1787 in states like Rhode Island (remember the paper money fiasco). Furthermore, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, only Elbridge Gerry expressed any concern about “the evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.” No other Framer expressed a similar sentiment.
To counter the argument that the Framers created the EC to protect small states, all one has to do is to look at Madison’s Notes on the Convention and see that this idea never appears in the notes. This doesn’t mean that delegates didn’t care about the difference between the large and small states, it just means that in the discussions for choosing the president, the issue of large and small states didn’t come up (though it definitely did when figuring out the configuration of Congress).
When discussing how to chose the president, one initial suggestion was by Edmund Randolph of Virginia who said that he/she should be chosen by the national legislature. James Madison later suggested that the lower house of Congress should pick the president. There was also significant debate as to how many people should be president – should it be one person, a pair, or several? James Wilson made a proposal that the president be chosen by a popular vote, using the example of New York and Massachusetts popularly electing their governors. Gouverneur Morris also made an argument for a popular vote: “he ought to be elected by the people at large, by the freeholders (landowners) of the Country… If the people should elect, they will never fail to prefer some man of distinguished character or services; some man, if he might so speak, of continental reputation. If the legislature elect, it will be the work of intrigue, of cabal (conspiracy), and of faction…” Southern delegates, for the most part, opposed popular vote because the Northern states had more voters than the Southern states despite having similar populations (because the enslaved didn’t vote). The popular vote idea would eventually be voted down.
Eventually, in mid July, Oliver Ellsworth proposed that electors appointed by the state legislatures chose the president and that the number be determined by the state’s population. Madison feared that the South would never be able to affect the outcome if it was based upon the free population because there were more free white and Black folks in the North than in the South. Madison would then support the EC because of the 3/5 Compromise which would give the Southern states a bigger say in who became president. This can be seen in the 1800 election. Jefferson had more votes than Adams because of the 3/5 Compromise but without it, Adams would have won. In fact, 10 of the first 12 presidents elected, from Washington to Taylor, would be slaveholders. So it might seem that the EC was created to the benefit of slave states.
For some more modern arguments about the EC, here is Adam Ruins Everything on why we should ditch the EC:
They bring up an interesting point in this video, that if the winner – take – all system was gotten rid of, you wouldn’t have so many solidly blue (Democratic) or red (Republican) states. In the article that I asked you to read for this blog, it states that 2/3 of the states don’t even matter in a presidential election because they’re not battleground states, and that in 2016, 94% of the candidates’ visits were limited to just 12 states (and 2/3 of the visits were in just SIX STATES!). Somehow, a popular vote would fix this, get rid of battleground states, and make sure that the candidates get around the country to go see everybody in order to get their vote.
For the other side of the argument to keep the EC, here is a video by Prager U:
The video states that the EC promotes coalition building and protects against voter fraud. The video also stated that the Framers didn’t intend to have a pure democracy (or popular vote) when it came to the president (or the Senate for that matter). In the article for the blog, they stated that the Framers were worried about only a few large states picking the presidency while the rest would be ignored.
Just so you know, in order to eliminate the EC, it would require a Constitutional amendment. That would require 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of all of the state legislatures.
So, please answer the following:
- Which video – Adam Ruins Everything and Prager U – had the more persuasive arguments? Why?
- Do you believe that the electoral college should be eliminated? Why or why not?
- Should the winner – take – all system of how states assign their electors be changed to be proportional? Why or why not? For instance, Texas has 38 electoral votes which Trump won in 2020 by a margin of 52% – 47%. If the electoral votes were assigned proportionally based upon the vote, Trump would have won 20 and Biden would have won 18.
Your total answer for all 3 questions should be a minimum of 350 words. Due Monday, October 11 by class.