The Electoral College

US Map with Counties

Electoral college: the system by which the president and vice president of the United States are chosen. It was devised by the framers of the United States Constitution to provide a method of election that was feasible, desirable, and consistent with a republican form of government.

Amendment XII – Election of President and Vice President / 1804

From Robert Longley, contributor at ThoughtCO.

The Twelfth Amendment sets forth the procedure for the election of the President and the Vice President of the United States. Prior to the Amendment, the President and the Vice President of the United States were elected by a single ballot. In this regard, the person who received the largest number of vote, if more than half, was elected as the President and the person who received the next highest was elected the Vice President. This system, however, was suspended by the twelfth amendment in 1804.

Under the Electoral College system , it is possible for a presidential candidate to lose the nationwide popular vote, yet be electedpresident of the United States  by winning in only a handful of key states. Should you ever forget this fact, critics of the Electoral College will be sure to remind you of it every four years.

What could the Founding Fathers—the framers of the Constitution—have been thinking in 1787? Did they not realize that the Electoral College system effectively took the power to select the American president out of the hands of the American people? Yes, they did. In fact, the Founders always intended that the states—not the people—select the president.

Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution grants the power to elect the president and vice president to the states through the Electoral College system. Under the Constitution, the highest-ranking U.S. officials elected by the direct popular vote of the people are the governors of the states.

Reasons to keep the Electoral College

Beware the Tyranny of the Majority

To be brutally honest, the Founding Fathers gave the American public of their day little credit for political awareness when it came to selecting the president.

The Founding Fathers had seen the dangers of placing ultimate power into a single set of human hands. Accordingly, they feared that placing the unlimited power to elect the president into the politically naive hands of the people could lead to a “tyranny of the majority.” In response, they created the Electoral College system as a process to insulate the selection of the president from the whims of the public.

Giving the Small States an Equal Voice

The Electoral College helps give rural states with lower populations an equal voice. If the popular vote alone decided elections, the presidential candidates would rarely visit those states or consider the needs of rural residents in their policy platforms. Due to the Electoral College process, candidates must get votes from multiple states—large and small—thus helping to ensure that the president will address the needs of the entire country.

Ensuring Electoral Certainty

If elections were decided by the popular vote alone, the president could be chosen without actually obtaining a majority of the total vote. This happened in 1968 and 1992, when Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton won the electoral vote while receiving just 43% of the popular vote, and again in 2016 when President Donald Trump won only 46% of the popular vote. In such cases, the certainty and finality of the Electoral College process help to prevent the need for costly runoff elections and calls for vote recounts.

Preserving Federalism

The Founding Fathers also felt the Electoral College system would enforce the concept of federalism—the division and sharing of powers between the state and national governments. Under the Constitution, the people are empowered to choose, through a direct popular election, the men and women who represent them in their state legislatures and in the United States Congress. The states, through the Electoral College, are empowered to choose the president and vice president.

Repealing the XII Amendment

To amend the constitution it takes a two-thirds vote from both houses of Congress and be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

It is probable that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would hold a strong majority of seats in Congress. Requiring a two-thirds vote from both houses, a constitutional amendment must have strong bi-partisan support—support it will not get from a split Congress. (The president cannot veto a constitutional amendment.)

To be ratified and become effective, a constitutional amendment must also be approved by the legislatures of 39 out of the 50 states. By design, the Electoral College system grants the states the power to elect the president of the United States. How likely is it that 39 states are going to vote to give up that power? Moreover, 12 states control 53 percent of the votes in the Electoral College, leaving only 38 states that might even consider ratification.

Are We a Democracy or Not?

Critics of the Electoral College system argue that by taking the selection of the president out of the hands of the public at large, that Electoral College system flies in the face of democracy. America is, after all, a democracy, is it not? Let’s see.

Two of the most widely recognized forms of democracy are:

  • Pure or Direct Democracy — All decisions are made directly by a majority vote of all eligible citizens. By their vote alone, citizens can enact laws and select or remove their leaders. The power of the people to control their government is unlimited.
  • Representative Democracy — The citizens rule through representatives who they elect periodically in order to keep them accountable. The power of the people to control their government is thus limited by the actions of their elected representatives.

The United States is a representative democracy operated under a “republican” form of government, as provided for in Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution, which states, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of Government…” (This should not be confused with the Republican political party which is merely named after the form of government.)

In 1787, the Founding Fathers, based on their direct knowledge of history showing that unlimited power tends to become a tyrannical power, created the United States as a republic—not a pure democracy.

Direct democracy only works when all or at least most of the people participate in the process. The Founding Fathers knew that as the nation grew and the time required for debating and voting on every issue increased, the public’s desire to take part in the process would quickly decrease. As a result, the decisions and actions taken would not truly reflect the will of the majority, but small groups of people representing their own interests.

The Founders were unanimous in their desire that no single entity, be it the people or an agent of the government, be given unlimited power. Achieving a “separation of powers” ultimately became their highest priority.

As a part of their plan to separate powers and authority, the Founders created the Electoral College as the method by which the people could choose their highest government leader—the president—while avoiding at least some of the dangers of a direct election.

Robert Longley is a U.S. government and history expert with over 30 years of experience in municipal government. He has written for ThoughtCo since 1997. (original article)


From HD56 Rep. Rod Bockenfeld:

I along with all Republicans in the house opposed the National Popular Vote Bill. Like most controversial bills these days, the vote went straight down party lines.

The bill will be challenged in the courts as soon as it is signed by the Govenor. In debate, this was pointed out to the Democrats and frankly they don’t care. They feel they have the judiciary on their side.

I think we all understood that the Democrats were going to over-reach this legislative session. What we didn’t comprehend was how quickly.

All my colleagues in the House are keeping their morale high. We are definitely in a defensive posture.

We are all committed to keep fighting for Republican Principles. However, the next election cannot come soon enough.

I am honored to serve my constituents in House District # 56 here at the Capitol.