The Electoral College: Blessing Or Disaster?

November 2, 2004 by
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Constitutional Congress Making The Compromises That Led To The Electoral College

The Electoral College: Blessing Or Disaster? It Indicates The Framers
Never Intended A Pure Democracy. The Case For Maine And Nebraska.

The Electoral College is a concept that was included in the Constitution at Article II section 1. It was a way of uniting the Thirteen Colonies of 4 million people some with populations larger than the others spread out over the Atlantic Coastline of North America. The main system of communication between the major cities of the colonies was the post and that was slow. Further many voters in New England might not be familiar with a candidate from S. Carolina or Georgia and vice versa so the Framers used the ancient idea of groups voting for electors who would be knowledgeable men known locally and who would then choose the national candidates for president and vice president. This prevented states with large populations from overwhelming states with small populations by a majority vote. It also prevented factionalism by states voting for favorite sons. The Constitution left it up to the states to designate the way electors were chosen. (click here)

With the evolution of mass communication and the huge growth of the country (population nearly 315 million) most state laws now provide for electors committed to a specific candidates named on the ballot. Each state has two votes plus one for each congressperson. A state like California has fifty-seven electoral votes while a state like N. Dakota has three. The Constitution also left it up to the states to designate how the electors would cast their votes for president. Most States have laws that the winner of the majority vote take all except for Maine (4 votes, changed 1969) and Nebraska (5 votes, changed 1991) which provide that the statewide winner takes two and the winner in each congressional district takes the vote from that district. Colorado(9 votes) has a similar system on the ballot for this election. If passed it also goes into effect immediately.

The Constitution in 1880 was amended so the president and vice president were from the same party and elected together. Prior to this President Adams had Jefferson as a Vice President. These men, from two different parties, disagreed on many issues. This Amendment strengthened the two party system, which is a strong bulwark of our democracy (there always is an opposition to criticize the incumbents) and prevents small factions with diverse platforms such as the Natural Law Party etc. from gaining political office. (click here)

The down side of the Electoral College is that it occasionally allows a candidate with a plurality in the Electoral College to win even though he may not have a majority of the popular vote as we saw in the last election. Thus the winner takes all system and the system that all states have at least three votes indicates that the Framers never intended a pure democracy. They didn’t change this with the Twelfth Amendment of 1800 by at least making the electors be elected by congressional districts like Maine and Nebraska do now. This would make it more probable the winner of the majority votes would have the majority of the electoral votes also. It would not be a certainty however because of the two extra votes each state gets not based on population. Communications then were still by post and slow and inefficient by today’s standards. Perhaps the Framers were wary because of the unbridled excesses of the French Revolution that went from a pure representative democracy to the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. After all representative democracy on a wide basis was really a new concept. The Greeks had had democracy but it was for the patrician class. Also the same reasons existed then as do now that states with small populations will refuse to vote for any amendment that takes away their advantage. Basically a Constitutional amendment requires a two thirds majority of the states. However Maine and Nebraska are small states and they changed unilaterally so the conventional thinking on this may not apply.

Therefore the Election on Tuesday November 4th may again return a president not elected by a majority popular vote but by a majority of electors based on the above system skewed in favor of the states. While this may be repugnant to many the electoral system has provided for stability of government for over two centuries and allowed our country to grow and prosper and while we are not a pure democracy we are close. Perhaps if we have another election not reflecting the majority will and a president not willing to take cognizance that he is not a popularly elected president and govern accordingly more states will follow the example of Maine and Nebraska.

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