The Electoral College: Rationale and Process Essay

This essay has a total of 2394 words and 10 pages.

The Electoral College: Rationale and Process

The Founding Fathers wanted to distinguish the newly formed United States from a pure
democracy. The Framers defined democracy as government decisions made directly by the
people. They decided to use a republic form of government because it promised wiser
government. This type of government would allow decisions to be made by representatives
elected by people.

The one issue styled under this republican representation was the process on how to choose
a president. This process has been the source of continuing controversy for over two
hundred years. There have been more attempts to change the twelfth amendment than any
other provision in the Constitution. Ironically, in the debates preceding the ratification
of the Constitution, the method of presidential selection was not very controversial.
Alexander Hamilton wrote, "The mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United
States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence which has escaped without
severe censure or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents"
(Wright 56).

Alexander Hamilton was the chief architect of the electoral college since he distrusted
popular democracy. He said that the electoral college would ensure that a few men of
insight and reflection would select the ablest president. Specifically, he wrote, "A small
number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass would act under
circumstances favorable to deliberation" (Wright 59). Hamilton believed that the electoral
college system would reduce civic unrest if public participation were directed to certify
the results of a presidential election. He noted that the electoral college concept was
less susceptible to political manipulation.

However, the United States has moved away from the original republicanism rationale
experienced by the Founding Fathers. Opponents of the electoral college, such as author
Lawrence Longley state, "Today's advancement in communications, computers, and polling
computations has permitted our society to accept results the popular vote with confidence"
(18). However, the question remains, has the electoral college outlived it original intent
and purpose? I believe that we need the electoral college to alleviate future problems
that are associated with direct vote presidential elections. Moreover, we have used this
system to select presidents since the early 1800's while other methods have remained
political theory.

The function of the electoral college is to elect the presidents and vice-presidents of
the United States. The Constitution (Article 2, Section 1) provides that each state shall
appoint as many presidential electors as the state has members of Congress. Three is the
smallest number of electors a state may have, since every state has two senators and at
least one member of the House of Representatives.

According to the Constitution and federal law, each state may appoint presidential
electors by whatever means they wish. After the electors have been chosen, they meet in
their state capitals to cast their ballots. The only constitutional restriction is that an
elector may vote for only one candidate who is a resident of the same state of the
elector. To be elected president or vice-president, a candidate must receive a majority of
all the electoral votes cast. If no candidate receives a majority, the House of
Representatives chooses the president from among the three candidates receiving the
highest number of electoral votes. If the House of Representatives must make a choice,
each state receives one vote and a majority of the states must agree on a single
candidate. When no candidate for vice-president receives a majority, the Senate then
chooses the vice-president from the other two highest candidates. Each senator has one
vote and a vice-president candidate receiving the majority of the votes in the Senate
wins.

In practice, the presidential electors are chosen through the political parties. Each
party in each state nominates a slate of presidential electors for that state. The result
is that one party wins all or none of a state's electoral votes. The electors are expected
to vote for their own party's presidential and vice-presidential candidates, although
occasionally an elector has voted for someone else. The choosing of electors by slates
makes it difficult for a third party to challenge the major parties unless it has strength
in a number of large electoral states.

Constitutional scholars have been struggling to understand the theory behind the electoral
college. Michael Glennon has research the origins of the twelfth amendment for many years.
He has concluded that, "Many Constitutional Delegates voted for the system only because
they believed that few presidential candidates would ever command a sufficient national
following to win a majority of the electoral college votes" (7). Being such, the choice of
president was thought to almost always fall to the Congress. The projection was wrong;
only twice in American history has Congress been called upon to pick the president.

The present system provides a winner-take-all method of electing presidential candidates.
This method awards all of the state's electoral votes to the candidate who receives the
majority of electoral votes. This gives an advantage to states with large numbers of
electoral votes, such as California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. These
five states constitute 61 percent of the 270 electoral votes required for election. These
numbers mandate that presidential candidates need to actively solicit support from these
states. This encourages greater political favoritism and recognition for these large
electoral states. This is one reason the electoral college has not been modified or
abolished; the majority of these elected representatives have thwarted any attempts of
reform that could curtail their influence.

Adversaries of the current system complain that a victory for a candidate does not
guarantee that candidate has the most popular votes. According to an article written by
Fred Barbash in the Washington Post, "The electoral college is a time bomb waiting to
explode, if more than two strong candidates run for president and no one receives a
majority of electoral votes then the decision would be in the hands of the faceless party
favorites customarily nominated to the electoral college."

Another charge is that the present system produces inequalities in popular voting power.
It is believed the minority voters in each state are denied their political right to
expand meaningful alliances across state lines. Their contention is that the minority
votes are misappropriated and given to the majority voters of each state. The electoral
college's winner-take-all rule, is responsible for this inequity. This happens in a
three-way race in which candidate A receives 40 percent of the popular vote; candidate B,
35 percent; and candidate C, 25 percent. Candidate A receives 100 percent of the electoral
votes, therefore, 60 percent of the people in the state are disenfranchised.

Supporters of the direct election, cite other benefits, such as; It would eliminate the
potential problem of faithless electoral college electors; strengthen and encourage
two-party elections; and stimulate greater voter interest and participation.

Although the proponents of the direct election plan appear to have a strong case against
the existing system, the appearance is not the reality. The nation may be better advised
to follow advice of George Washington, "Experience is the surest standard by which to test
the real tendency of [a] constitution" (Best 30).

Direct elections could produce a candidate without a majority, this would lead to run-off
elections to determine a winner. Moreover, the critics' objection to the present system is
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