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The Electoral College 1

The Electoral College’s role and purpose: Should it be dismantled?

Robert L. Rooks

Ottawa University
The Electoral College’s role and purpose: Should it be dismantled? 2
Abstract

This work addresses the real history and origins of the Electoral College, a system of

voting for the President of the United States of America, held every 4 years in early November.

The Electoral College is often the topic of much scrutiny in unlikely instances of candidates

losing the popular vote yet, winning the Electoral College and therefore the presidency. This has

happened 4 times in the history of the country and usually in accordance with a very unfavorable

president winning by technicality. This essay explains how this process came about, why, and

should it be altered in any way to improve it for the betterment of the United States and its

citizens.
The Electoral College’s role and purpose: Should it be dismantled? 3

The Electoral College’s role and purpose: Should it be dismantled?

The Electoral College is not a physical place. It as an institutional process that was

drafted into the fabric of the United States of America’s Constitution. Going forward this essay

will describe the EC, its intended purpose, and its actual purpose; then conclude with a narrative

as to how the election process could be improved. During the process of electing a new

Commander & Chief, executive head of Government, more commonly referred to as President;

the Electoral College process ultimately decides who that individual will be.

The Electoral College process of election is complicated; some would argue it is

overly-complicated but nonetheless, it is what it is at the moment. The United States of America

is a federal republic comprised of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each state holds

conventions in which particular political parties rally to nominate slates of electors to vote on

their behalf. (Archives, 2016) “​The founding fathers established it in the Constitution as a
The Electoral College’s role and purpose: Should it be dismantled? 4
compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the

President by a popular vote of qualified citizens​.​” (Archives, 2016) Of course, there were various

reasons for doing so, all sorts of justifications have been made in favor of or opposing the

necessity of the Electoral College election process.

The voting process is complex for a purpose so that the three major systems of

government will need to be involved in electing the President of the United States. “​The first part

of the process is controlled by the political parties in each state and varies from state to state.

Generally, the parties either nominate slates of potential ​Electors​​ at their state party conventions

or they chose them by a vote of the party's central committee.​” (Archives, 2016) This process of

party nomination is technically defunct; because the reliance on party nomination instead of

individual nomination unfairly favors conglomerate 2-party system. The 2-party system is under

scrutiny very similar to the Electoral College’s unfavorable attributes.

Purpose of the Electoral College

The voting process within any form of government is always a critical event regarding

the transition of power between separate officials and staff. The exact purpose for the electoral

college is left to historical interpretation, like much of the original constitution; in recent history,

increasingly valid points have been made opposing and ridiculing the Electoral College

institution.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2​​ of the Constitution states:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof

may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of


The Electoral College’s role and purpose: Should it be dismantled? 5
Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in

the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an

Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed

an Elector.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 4​​ of the Constitution states:

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing [​sic​] the Electors,

and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be

the same throughout the United States.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 3​​ of the Constitution provided the original plan by

which the electors chose the president and vice president. Under the original plan,

the candidate who received a majority of votes from the electors would become

president; the candidate receiving the second most votes would become vice

president. (Archives, 2016)

However, individual state governments are allowed to conduct their own process for

selecting electors independent of the federal government. (Chang, 2007) The Constitution does

not explicitly require individual states to elect their electors by popular vote.

Today, aside from the sometimes “unfaithful elector” that is, electors that do not vote in

accordance with their constituents popular candidate; usually the winner of the popular outright

wins the election. However, this was not the case in 1876, 1888, 2000, and most recently 2016.
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(Gore, 2016) Some states have laws and provisions punishing such electors; however, such

measures have never been taken before and are unprecedented.

Intended Purpose

According to the status quo, the Electoral College, despite not being spelled out in the

Constitution explicitly; is a large bi-cameral elected body that in turn selects the popularly voted

Presidential candidate. So, how did we get the Electoral College in the first place? According to

the United States Government archives.

The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution


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. However, the
term “electoral college” does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the
Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to “electors,” but not to the “electoral
college.”
Since the Electoral College process is part of the original design of the
U.S. Constitution it would be necessary to pass a Constitutional amendment to
change this system.
Note that the 12th Amendment, the expansion of voting rights, and the use
of the popular vote in the States as the vehicle for selecting electors has
substantially changed the process.
Many different proposals to alter the Presidential election process have
been offered over the years, such as a direct nation-wide election by the People,
but none have been passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification as a
Constitutional amendment. Under the most common method for amending the
Constitution, an amendment must be proposed by a two-thirds majority in both
houses of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the States.
(Archives, 2016)

How we got the Electoral College is simple, it is basically, the entire body of elected

officials that ultimately have more power, in terms of voting, than the typical United States

citizens vote. It was designed that way for a reason. So, why did the founders feel that it was

necessary?
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The Issue

The Electoral College, in the beginning, was necessary for a time, in the youth of the

U.S.; in order to stabilize the country while the powers of the federal government were still being

decided upon. By mostly, middle-aged white landowning males were deciding how an entirely

stolen land would now be governed. The Electoral College was made up of these kinds of men

for an extensive amount of this nation's history.

Some claim that the founding fathers chose the Electoral College over a direct
election in order to balance the interests of high-population and low-population
states. But the deepest political divisions in America have always run not
between big and small states, but between the north and the south, and between
the coasts and the interior.
One Founding-era argument for the Electoral College stemmed from the fact
that ordinary Americans across a vast continent would lack sufficient
information to choose directly and intelligently among leading presidential
candidates.
(Amar, 2016)

These are in fact true and valid points however not the entire case. Yes, the Electoral College

effectively forces the voter to indirectly influence elections. Not directly, like a true democracy.

Manipulation of the Electoral College. ​No system is perfect, however, when an

imbalance is sensed it should be corrected for the sake of justice.

Enter the 12th Amendment, which allowed each party to designate one

candidate for president and a separate candidate for vice president. The
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amendment’s modifications of the electoral process transformed the Framers’

framework, enabling future presidential elections to be openly populist and

partisan affairs featuring two competing tickets. It is the 12th Amendment’s

Electoral College system, not the Philadelphia Framers’, that remains in place

today. If the general citizenry’s lack of knowledge had been the real reason for the

Electoral College, this problem was largely solved by 1800. So why wasn’t the

entire Electoral College contraption scrapped at that point?

(Amar,2016)

The elephant(s) in the room, was that not all men were seen as equal under their new laws

despite expressing that very notion. With an imbalance in population size between the

slaveholding south and the industrial north, a solution was required in order to have some kind of

“equal representation” among the states within the federal government.

In other words, in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the

South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) of course could not

vote. But the Electoral College—a prototype of which Madison proposed in this

same speech—instead let each southern state count its slaves, albeit with a

two-fifths discount, in computing its share of the overall count.

(Amar,2016)

Consequences of an unaddressed flaw​ “​If the system’s pro-slavery tilt was not

overwhelmingly obvious when the Constitution was ratified, it quickly became so. For 32 of the
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Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slaveholding Virginian occupied the presidency.​”

(Amar,2016) Since then, amendments have been made to the constitution in attempts to balance

racial influence. However, the damages are nearly immeasurable.

Public distrust and dissent ​seem to be the natural response in light of such injustice that

is inherently evoked election by election, sometimes in favor and sometimes not.

Southerner Thomas Jefferson, for example, won the election of 1800-01 against
Northerner John Adams in a race where the slavery-skew of the electoral college
was the decisive margin of victory: ​without the extra electoral college votes
generated by slavery, the mostly southern states that supported Jefferson
would not have sufficed to give him a majority.​ As pointed observers remarked
at the time, Thomas Jefferson metaphorically rode into the executive mansion
on the backs of slaves.
The 1796 contest between Adams and Jefferson had featured an even sharper
division between northern states and southern states. Thus, at the time the
Twelfth Amendment tinkered with the Electoral College system rather than
tossing it, the system’s pro-slavery bias was hardly a secret. Indeed, in the floor
debate over the amendment in late 1803, Massachusetts Congressman Samuel
Thatcher complained that “The representation of slaves adds thirteen members
to this House in the present Congress, and eighteen Electors of President and
Vice President at the next election.” But Thatcher’s complaint went unredressed.
Once again, the North caved to the South by refusing to insist on a direct
national election.
(Amar, 2016)
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This is the origins of the Electoral College, less flattering, but true nonetheless. Keeping

this system in place despite, not facing the same issues today that the institution was designed to

combat then, is disrespectful to all that the constitution aims to protect.

Solutions

A complete deconstruction of the Electoral College would admittedly be

over-reactionary. The EC is a part of an ingenious design; though, not perfect, the necessary

infrastructure is in place already just a few adjustments need to be made. Which means amending

the Constitution in most cases, which is difficult to do in most cases.

Reform

Reform seems the most viable proponent of change; however, the systematically

underrepresented populous would go on being overlooked if a quick fix is to be considered a

solution to this longstanding problem. A serious reform would have to survive an attack from the

current system in place initially.

Abolishment

Straight up abolishing the Electoral College would weaken the process and make it even

more susceptible to corruption and manipulation than it already is. Unless a replacement system

is constructed this is essentially the best option available.

Conclusion
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References

Amar, A. R. (2016, November). Election 2016: The Real Reason the Electoral College Exists.

Retrieved April 26, 2017, from

http://time.com/4558510/electoral-college-history-slavery/

Archives. (2016). What is the Electoral College? Retrieved April 25, 2017, from

https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html

Blair, Douglas H. (1979) "Electoral College reform and the distribution of voting power." ​Public

Choice​ 34.2: 201-215.

Bugh, Gary, ed. (2016) ​Electoral College Reform: Challenges and Possibilities.​ Routledge,

Chang, Stanley (2007). "Updating the Electoral College: The National Popular Vote

Legislation". ​Harvard Journal on Legislation.​ Cambridge, MA: President and Fellows of

Harvard College. 44 (205, at 208).

Dixon Jr, R. G. (1950). Electoral College Procedure. ​Western Political Quarterly,​ ​3(​ 2), 214-224.

Dodd, Walter F. (1922) ​State Government​. 2nd ed. New York: The Century Co., Print.

Edwards, George C. (2004) ​Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America​. Yale University

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