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A Look at the Electoral College

Though it has its problems, the Electoral College was originally designed to level the playing field between states

Kate Hogan's picture
by Kate Hogan on
Aug 28, 2017

Elections are something that Americans have always held sacred. The more democratic the government is, the better. The people are supposed to rule. One of the things that shows off American democracy the most is our election process. Within that process, is the Electoral College. 

In 1787, the United States was 13 newly independent states that were bound together by the very troubled Articles of Confederation. At that summer’s Constitutional Convention, men from 12 of those states argued over how to make a new federal government that would treat everyone equally. They decided that splitting Congress into two chambers, the House and the Senate, was the best way. The big states would get more power in the population based House of Representatives, and the small states had an equal voice in the Senate, where each state got two votes. When it came time to elect a President, some wanted Congress to choose, while others believed the power should go to the people, with a national popular vote. The Founding Fathers finally decided on a special body of legislators that would be formed for each election for the sole purpose of casting votes for President, and each state would get members equal to the number of its Representatives and Senators in Congress. This would guarantee that the smaller states still had a voice in the election. Thus, the Electoral College was born.

It is not easy to become an Elector. There is a two-part process when electing Electors to the college. The first part is that the states nominate slates of potential Electors at their state party conventions or choose them by a vote of the party’s central committee. The second part happens on Election Day itself.  When the voters in each state cast votes for the Presidential candidate of their choice, they are voting to select their state’s Electors. The winning Presidential candidate’s Electors are then selected to represent the state in the Electoral College.

Using Electors instead of the popular vote was intended to safeguard against uninformed or uneducated voters by putting the final vote in the hands of Electors that are most likely to possess the information necessary to make the best decision. It should prevent states with larger populations from having undue influence. The Founders wanted to make sure the voices of the masses would not drown out the interests of the minorities.

The Electoral College also ensures that all parts of the country are involved in the election. If the election depended solely on the popular vote, then candidates could limit campaigning to heavily-populated areas or very specific regions. To win an election, candidates need to win a mix of large and small states thanks to the Electoral College. Without the Electoral College, groups such as Iowa farmers would be ignored in favor of areas with a higher population, like New York or California.

The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College as a compromise between electing the President of the United States through a popular vote or a vote in Congress. The Electoral College has performed its function over the past 200 years and will continue to do so in the future. 

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