The Electoral College: What Has Changed?

I have read with some interest comments regarding the electoral college and the role it plays in the election process for the President of the United States. It seems that there are those who believe the President should be elected by popular vote, and when the nominee who received the most votes does not win, that candidate was cheated. When this has happened in the recent past, there has been a hue and cry to do away with the electoral college. My question is, what has changed? The United States has never elected a President by popular vote. Again, what has changed? The electoral college has been in use since 1787. Again, what has changed? There are few instances where the nominee who won the Presidential election did not also win the popular vote. Again, what has changed?

Contrary to the belief of some, the United States of American is NOT a democracy. It never has been. We have, in the United States, what is known as a Constitutionally Limited Federal Republic. We have a Constitution that limits the control our representatives have over the people. A “Federal Republic” is a form of government where the people elect representatives to make the governmental decisions including writing laws, controlling the budget, and making foreign policy. We, the people, entrust our elected legislators to conduct the business of State. The general population does not vote on each and every piece of proposed legislation.

The method for electing the President dates back to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. There were several alternative methods proposed for electing the President.  These included selection by Congress, selection by the governors of each state, selection by the legislatures, selection by a special group of Members of Congress, and selection by popular vote. The Electoral College system was devised by the Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters and was approved by the Constitutional Convention delegates. The purpose of the Electoral College system was to reconcile differing state and federal interests, to provide a degree of popular participation in the election, to give the less populous states some additional leverage in the process, to preserve the presidency as independent of Congress, and to attempt to insulate the election process from political manipulation.

The Constitution gave each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of its membership in the Senate (two to each state, the “senatorial” electors) and its delegation in the House of Representatives (currently ranging from one to 52 members). The electors are chosen by the states “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct” (U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 1).

During a Presidential election, the voters are actually voting for presidential electors. These electors make up the Electoral College. It is these electors who actually elect the President. The only persons prohibited from serving as electors are Senators, Representatives, and persons holding executive appointments. The electors meet in their respective states and cast their ballots as state units. This was implemented in an attempt to prevent manipulation of the process. A majority of electoral votes is necessary to elect. This was intended to insure a broad acceptance of the winning candidate.  In the event of an Electoral College tie, election by the House of Representatives is the default method of election. The only major change to the original Electoral College process was the ratification of the 12thAmendment in 1804. This Amendment enacted separate ballots for President and Vice President, with electors casting a single vote for each office.

The number of electoral votes allotted to each state may change based on the census conducted every ten years. This reapportionment process, which reallocates the number of members of the House of Representatives, reflects the changes in a particular state’s population, may increase or decrease the number of electoral votes as the population of a particular state increases or decreases.

The Electoral College process has changed very little since the ratification of the Constitution in 1787. There have been five Presidential elections where a nominee won the popular vote but lost the election: the elections of 1824, of 1876, of 1888, of 2000 and most recently, of 2016. There have been 58 Presidential elections in the history of the United States. In 53 of these 58 elections (91%) the nominee who won the popular vote also won the election.

So again, what has changed? To answer my own question, nothing has changed, except maybe some people’s understanding and appreciation for our election process. I guess Civics class was important in high school after all.

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