President James Madison 1809-1817 said then “The fittest thing would be for the people to directly elect the president through the popular vote”. So how did America opt for the not so popular Electoral College system?
This is an indirect way of electing a President in which citizens elect the electors and electors elect the President. A candidate with majority electoral votes wins the general election. The founding fathers established this system in article 2 section 1 of the American constitution. There was a heated debate by the founding fathers on several options on who should choose a president. Others wanted the congress to choose the president while others wanted the states, either the state legislatures or governors. Others wanted citizens to directly choose the president while others wanted electors though there was the question on who should choose the electors. Due to disagreements, a group of founding fathers called “THE COMMITTEE OF ELEVEN ON POSTPONED MATTERS “created Electoral College as a compromise.
What was the concern by the founding father on either of the suggested options?
- 1. Congress; there was a worry that a president elected under this method might become subservient to congress which would undermine the system of checks and balances.
2.State Governors; the concern here was that the president might feel indebted to states that voted for him/her which would be contrary to the system of federalism in there distinct and independent levels of government.
- Citizen/National popular vote; this had two main concerns, first was that an average citizen might not have enough information about candidates to make a sound decision. They thought each citizen will vote for a candidate from his/her region (Tribalism of some sort) and the winner would find it hard to govern the entire country after getting support from particular parts.
Founding fathers also worried that due to lack of information, citizens might elect someone unfit to be president.
The Electoral College was therefore created to solve these particular problems since electors would be more knowledgeable to make better judgment. Also Electoral College would help in case citizens elected such a character, electors would simply elect the right candidate.
So how did slaves “seal” the fate of POPULAR VOTE and “install” the ELECTORAL COLLEGE system?
The concern here came from smaller states who felt that states with larger populations would dominate presidential elections. This affected SOUTHERN SLAVE STATES like Virginia, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas and others that had small white populations since slaves couldn’t vote. This would have favored the Northern States who had a large white population and the worry was that all leaders would come from there and would deal primarily with interests of Northerners. In contrast, the Electoral College gave the southerners great voting power because although each state got two senators, the number of representatives depended on the population meaning the more the people the more the representatives. So to balance the voting power between the North and South, it was agreed that the number of voters be calculated by population of white people plus ¾ of the slaves. This tremendously increased the population of Southern states and the electors nearly equaled those from Northern states somehow balancing the voting power. According to Dr. Paul Finkelman Professor of law at Albany Law School and senior fellow of Pennsylvania program on Democracy, Electoral College system was adopted due to slaves and remains the only legacy, vestige of slavery in US constitution that is still affecting American political lives.
The Electoral College underwent a significant change when the 12th amendment was added to the constitution in 1804. Before the amendment, the electors would vote for the two candidates and the winner would be president and loser vice president. This created scheming by electors of either party to have both the president and vice president. Shortly after the nearly disastrous Election of 1800 where Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams, efforts were undertaken to amend the Constitution. The resulting 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804. The notion that electors have better deliberative capacity than the general populace is now passé, especially since the population is literate and informed, African Americans are free to vote and worse still electors today have become partisan activists who commit themselves to a candidate well before Election Day. So why does it still linger on?
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. Another 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.
Lastly there a is “Conspiracy Theory” that Electoral College system in this era keeps None Haspanic Whites in power since thier numbers are dwindling compared to Haspanics whites. For example the state of Wyoming has a total population of around 580,000 people 93% none Haspanic white has 3 electors. Others like Iowa of 3m people has -6 electors, New Hampshire of 1.3m-4, Idaho of 1.6m-4, Vermont of 700,000-3, Maine of 1.3m-4, Winsconsin of 5.7m-10, Oregon of 3.5m-7 giving seven states of 18m with an avarage 88% none haspanic whites 41 electoral votes yet one state of Florida with a population of 18m people and more diverse has 29 electoral votes. A candidate is better off campaigning in the sparsely populated seven states to gain those extra 12 votes than in Florida. The same seven states are just 14 electoral votes less than Califonia alone at 55 with a population of 39m, a whooping 21m people to spare. Further calculations make the picture more grim and the theory very real. But this is DEMOCRACY remember.