Why Does it Work This Way?
Most voters would be unhappy to see their candidate win the most votes but lose the election. Why would the Founding Fathers create a constitutional process that would allow this to happen?
The Framers of the Constitution wanted to make sure the people were given direct input in choosing their leaders and saw two ways to accomplish this:
- The people of the entire nation would vote for and elect the president and vice president based on popular votes alone. A direct popular election.
- The people of each state would elect their members of the US Congress by direct popular election. The members of Congress would then express the wishes of the people by electing the president and vice president themselves. An election by Congress.
The Founding Fathers feared the direct popular election option. There were no organized national political parties yet, no structure by which to choose and limit the number of candidates. In addition, travel and communication was slow and difficult at that time. A very good candidate could be popular regionally, but remain unknown to the rest of the country. A large number of regionally popular candidates would thus divide the vote and not indicate the wishes of the nation as a whole.
On the other hand, election by Congress would require the members to both accurately assess the desires of the people of their states and to actually vote accordingly. This could have led to elections that better reflected the opinions and political agendas of the members of Congress than the actual will of the people.
As a compromise, we have the Electoral College system.
Considering that only twice in our history has a candidate lost the popular national vote but been elected by electoral vote, and that in both cases the popular vote was extremely close, the system has worked pretty well.
Yet, the Founding Fathers' concerns with direct popular elections have mostly vanished. The national political parties have been around for years. Travel and communications are no longer problems. We all have access to every word spoken by every candidate every day.
So what do you think? Keeping in mind that doing so would require an amendment to the Constitution, should we do away with the Electoral College system and elect the president and vice president by direct popular election?
UPDATE: In Support of the Electoral College
Despite its often criticized processes, the Electoral College has served the United States well. In addition, there are dangers in the direct popular election of the president.
Discuss it here: Should the US scrap the Electoral College system?
Definitive sources for information and history on the Electoral College System.
A Procedural Guide to the Electoral College
Exactly how the Electoral College operates. How electors are chosen and how they actually elect the president and vice president. From the National Archives and Records Agency.
U.S. Electoral College Home Page
NARA, for the Office of the Federal Register, presents the rules of the Electoral College, plus information and statistics on past presidential elections.
Table of Electoral Votes From Each State
Table showing the number of votes each state gets in the Electoral College. From your About.com Guide.
|From other About.com Guide Sites|
The Election of 1796
The presidential election of 1796 was the first contested presidential election in American history, learn about this election from these interesting sources on political history, from your About.com Guide to 18th Century History, Rick Brainard.
Just click on a topic to read or take part in the discussion.