The Electoral College: What If Six DID turn out to be Nine?

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There have been over 700 efforts to either reform or do away with the Electoral College. There are many flaws in the system. Some of them can be corrected without doing away with the Electoral College. Among these is to follow the example of states like Colorado which have voted to award its electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote.

This is actually a reasonable solution because it gives agency to the individual States. This is important because the United States is a Federal Republic. Federalism means there are two levels of government: the State and the National. In theory, the State government is not subservient to the National government except in jurisdictions where the National government has power defined by the Constitution. The Constitution was created to define and limit the powers of the national government to functions that the individual States cannot perform such as interstate commerce and foreign affairs.

One of the powers retained by the States is to choose electors. Electors were not always chosen by the popular vote and some of the framers thought it would be the States and not the people who elected the President. In fact, as originally written the only part of the National government the people could directly influence was the House of Representatives. Modes of election for all other offices including the Senate, the Executive and the Federal Courts were to be chosen by some other means insulated from the passions of a possible mob. The Electoral College insulated the Presidency from these passions.

In the thinking of all of the framers the Constitution did not create a giant centralized empire but a confederation of States. They were suspicious of a National government with too much power (i.e., Parliament) but they were also afraid of the possibility of mob rule. They reluctantly agreed that there needed to be some central authority to handle affairs the individual States were incapable of, but they wanted to make sure it could not infringe the rights of the States nor be hijacked by an oppressive majority. The solution was to create a national government with three independent and co-equal branches chosen, in essence, by propertied elites. Even the House of Representatives, which was directly elected by the people, was in fact elected by a tiny minority; most people simply did not possess the qualifications for voting.

The Presidency was the most contentious of the offices of the national government because the framers were concerned about placing too much power in a single individual, like a king. One of the ways of limiting the power of the Presidency was to have the office decided by a college of electors chosen by the State Legislatures. It was up to the States how the electors were chosen (Article 2, Section 1); electors did not need to be chosen by popular vote (although they did represent the people because the State legislators who chose them were elected by the people).

Hamilton notes in Federalist 68 that the selection of President by these electors who meet in conventions in the several States will “afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.” Electors were supposed to stop a candidate with “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” from becoming President. The Electors were supposed to be “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.”

Obviously, the way the Electoral College has evolved has rendered meaningless its purpose of preventing demagogues from being elected to the Presidency. It does however continue to give agency to the States in selecting a President. That is an important consideration because without that agency the country is no longer a Federal Republic. The bottom line is that doing away with the Electoral College would fundamentally alter the structure of the United States. Even while recognizing the flaws in the Electoral College, it would seem more prudent to amend the present system, as States like Colorado have done, than to effect a radical change in the structure of the Republic.

Eliminating the Electoral College would have the effect of making six turn out to be nine. Would you mind?