The Electoral College has been in the news big time most of the week. It will continue so a bit longer.

Many are unaware of why there is an Electoral College. Seems to be different from the manner in which most things done by vote are conducted. Most are by majority vote. Considered the democratic way to do things.

The problem is the Electoral College does not function democratically. It distorts democracy.

The reason therefore is that the Electoral College was born of compromise.

It was 1787. The  delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had spent months knocking out the Constitution. One item especially befuddled them, however. The manner in which a President was to be elected.

Two approaches were under consideration. One that Congress should pick the President. The other that the people select the President by democratic popular vote.

The delegates were tired, impatient, and frustrated. They wanted to go home. The Presidency issue still burdened them. Ergo, they acted in haste so they could return to their homes. Compromise was the only way they could get the job done and leave.

Haste does make waste. The Electoral College is an example.

The Electoral College adopted calls for the creation every four years of a temporary group of electors equal to the total number of Representatives in Congress.

Technically, the electors are to vote for the President, not the people. The present Congress consists of 538 members. A majority vote is 270. The first to reach that number wins.

The Electoral College was not intended to be perfect. The delegates knew it. They were aware it was not the best they could produce. However, they did not care. They were tired. Their goal was to get home.

The Electoral College has been described as an instrument “cobbled together” because the delegates could not agree on anything else.

Practical reasons were also involved in coming up with the Electoral College as opposed to anything else.

At the time of the Constitutional Convention, no other country had ever directly elected its chief executive. The delegates feared wading into uncharted waters.

The delegates also distrusted executive power. They had had to deal with a tyrannical king and overreaching colonial governors. Such considered despots. They did not want to deal with another despot.

Convention delegates were divided among themselves. Each had a different reason for how and how not a President should be selected.

One group was adamantly opposed to Congress picking the President. They believed such would provide too much opportunity for chummy corruption between the executive and legislative branches.

Another group was as fervently opposed to the people directly electing the President by straight popular vote. They feared a headstrong “democratic man” could steer the country astray.

Finally, there was a group that feared a populist President appealing directly to the people could command dangerous amounts of power.

Out of the disagreements, the compromise Electoral College came to be. Its delegates to be “electoral intermediaries.”

The states would appoint individual “electors” who would cast their actual ballots for President.

Perhaps the most serious problem, the one sticking point difficult to resolve, was how to deal with slaves. Some states were slave owning, others not. The problem a power one. The more the number of people making up a state’s population, the more electors a state would have. The problem plagued the House of Representatives, also: Should slaves be included in counting a state’s population?

The result was the “three fifths compromise.” Each enslaved person would be counted as 3/5ths of a person for the allocation of electors, representatives, and calculating federal taxes.

The Electoral College has not worked as intended. It does not fit in today’s world of modern politics. The party in power typically benefits. The minority party has little chance of changing the system.

Why so difficult to change the system?

The Electoral College is part of the Constitution. A Constitutional amendment requires a two thirds vote in Congress, plus ratification by three quarters of the states.

A practical impossibility in today’s political world.

The Electoral College will be with us forever.

Enjoy your day!



  1. The Founders never intended for every citizen to vote in Presidential elections. That would have meant that our form of government was to be a true democracy with one vote per citizen. They feared democracy, referring to it as a “tyranny of the majority”. They chose instead a representative form of government where the people voted for representatives, who then voted in the House and Senate on behalf of the people in their districts. The word “democracy” does not even appear in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution. The right for citizens to vote does not appear until the 14th amendment in 1868, long after the Founding Fathers were all dead. And that right to vote was only for white males who owned property (including slaves).The Electoral College was the Founders’ way of electing a President as part of a representative form of government. There are many today that would like to get rid of it. But Lou is right. It would be far too difficult.

  2. Identical? Really? I found them to be quite different. But informative. The word “democracy” is not in the Declaration or Constitution? Didn’t know that.

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