why does the us have an electoral college

When U. S. citizens go to the polls to elect a president, they are in fact voting for a particular slate of electors. In every state but Maine and Nebraska, the candidate who wins the most votes (that is, a plurality) in the state receives all of the state s electoral votes. The number of electors in each state is the sum of its U. S. senators and its U. S. representatives. (The District of Columbia has three electoral votes, which is the number of senators and representatives it would have if it were permitted representation in Congress. ) The electors meet in their respective states 41 days after the popular election. There, they cast a ballot for president and a second for vice president. A candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes to be elected president. The reason that the Constitution calls for this extra layer, rather than just providing for the direct election of the president, is that most of the nation s founders were actually rather afraid of democracy. James Madison worried about what he called factions, which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole. Madison s fear which Alexis de Tocqueville later
the tyranny of the majority was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50 percent of the population, at which point it sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. Madison has a solution for tyranny of the majority: A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. As Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers, the Constitution is designed to ensure that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.


The point of the Electoral College is to preserve the sense of the people, while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. In modern practice, the Electoral College is mostly a formality. Most electors are loyal members of the party that has selected them, and in 26 states, plus Washington, D. C. , electors are by laws or party pledges to vote in accord with the popular vote. Although an elector could, in principle, change his or her vote (and a few actually have over the years), doing so is rare. As the 2000 election reminded us, the Electoral College does make it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote and still not become president. But that is less a product of the Electoral College and more a product of the way states apportion electors. In every state but Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis. So if a candidate wins a state by even a narrow margin, he or she wins all of the state s electoral votes. The winner-take-all system is not federally mandated; states are free to allocate their electoral votes as they wish. The Electoral College was not the only Constitutional limitation on direct democracy, though we have discarded most of those limitations. Senators were initially to be appointed by state legislatures, and states were permitted to ban women from voting entirely. Slaves got an even worse deal, as a slave officially was counted as just three-fifths of a person. The 14th Amendment abolished the three-fifths rule and granted (male) former slaves the right to vote.


The 17th Amendment made senators subject to direct election, and the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Joe Miller Big question: Why do we still have the Electoral College? Established in 1787, the Electoral College is as old as the U. S. Constitution. asked Dr. Paul Nolette, assistant professor in the department of political science, why, after 225 years, we still use the Electoral College system to elect our president instead of the popular vote? Turn on your favorite TV news program and you're likely to hear about how each presidential candidate is faring among "Wal-Mart Moms," "NASCAR Dads," or another critical voting group. As Americans were reminded in 2000, however, this presidential election will ultimately be decided by the 538 members of the Electoral College. Why is the Electoral College part of the Constitution? And why does it still exist today? During the debates over the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton's defense of the Electoral College suggested that electors would bring greater wisdom to presidential selection. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations, Federalist #68. Several of the Constitution's framers viewed the Electoral College as a protection of state power. Individual states would send electors who would presumably prevent the election of a candidate threatening to centralize power in the federal government. Many of the original justifications for the Electoral College have less force today. Other constitutional features meant to protect the states have since changed. The 17th Amendment, for example, shifted the selection of senators from state legislatures to popular election.


The notion that electors have better deliberative capacity than the general populace is now passй, especially since electors today are partisan activists who commit themselves to a candidate well before Election Day. So why do we keep the Electoral College? One argument is that the Electoral College ensures more attention to less populous states otherwise at risk of being ignored by presidential candidates. If people directly elected the president, candidates would focus their attention on population-rich states like California, New York and Texas rather than smaller states such as New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin. The problem is that under the current system, the vast majority of states are already ignored by candidates including not only most of the smallest but several of the largest as well. The lion's share of the attention goes to an increasingly small number of swing states that could realistically favor either candidate. This may be to our benefit here in the Badger State, but not so for those in Nebraska, Rhode Island or any of the 40 other non-competitive states. Perhaps a better contemporary argument for the Electoral College is that it has a tendency to produce clear winners. This contrasts with the popular vote, which remains relatively close in nearly all presidential contests. In 2008, for example, Obama won only 53 percent of the popular vote but more than two-thirds of the electoral vote. The Electoral College, as it typically does, helped to magnify the scope of the incoming president's victory. For someone taking on the highest-profile job in the world, this additional legitimacy boost may be no small thing. When you hear the term Electoral College bandied about, what comes to mind? An institute of higher learning? A behind-the-scenes vote-tallying process?


Actually, both these ideas are off the mark. But your confusion isn't. Many Americans don't really understand how an Electoral College works -- or why we have one in the first place. The Electoral College exists to elect the and of the United States. And therein lies the rub. What about your vote -- and the vote of millions of other Americans -- for a presidential candidate? Turns out, you're not actually voting for the next leader of the free world. You're casting a ballot for members of the Electoral College whose names probably don't appear on the ballot at all. The idea for an Electoral College originated in 1787, the same year the was written. In Article II, section 1 of the Constitution, it spells out the Electoral College framework, Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of 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. In short, the legislature selected electors, who in turn elected a president and vice president. So where did that leave the American people? In the early days of the Electoral College, they didn't seem to have much of a voice. Fortunately, today, members of the Electoral College are no longer appointed by the legislature, but are voted on by the American public as they cast their votes for presidential candidates. However, so little is known about Electoral College nominees -- or the Electoral College process in general -- that on Election Day, most Americans believe they are casting their votes for president. In reality, they're voting for unnamed electors who will cast the deciding votes in the presidential race [source: ].

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