By Richard E. Caroll
While there have been repeated calls to abolish the Electoral College in presidential elections, there is no possibility that the Electoral College will be abolished. A part of presidential elections since the adoption of the current Constitution, it was a fundamental compromise that allowed for the adoption of the Constitution as the basis for the American Republic. The compromise for the Electoral College was approved in the Constitutional Convention, and adopted under the old Congress of the Confederation. The compromise reflected the hesitancy of the founding fathers for direct rule by the American people, and their preference for indirect rule for the American people. James Madison himself feared mob rule, and originally wanted the Executive Branch to be chosen by the House and Senate.
How the US Constitution Came About
The Constitutional Convention developed out of a need to regulate interstate commerce between the 13 states of the Congress of the Confederation which was established after the Revolutionary War. The Articles of Confederation was a weak national government structure, so weak that it was not able to obtain funds to finance the Congress of the Confederacy, pay the US Army, or to service the national debt.
Many of the founding fathers of the country were worried that the seams of the young nation were coming apart because of this weakness. Shay’s Rebellion only increased their concern, and a consensus emerged among them that the current Articles of Confederation was not capable of meeting the challenges that the young nation faced.
The Annapolis Convention
A convention was called for the member states of the Articles of Confederation to meet in Annapolis Maryland to consider how to “Remedy the Defects of the Federal Government.” Called the Annapolis Convention, delegates from all 13 states were invited to attend. Only five states attended the convention, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia.
While the main purpose of the convention had been called to discuss trade among the various states, it quickly became apparent that the issue of trade also touched upon many regulations in the Articles of Confederation. Due to the limited amount of representation at the convention, a report was written, along with recommendations, and sent to the Congress of the Confederation for their consideration. As a result of the Annapolis Convention, a call was issued for the 13 states to send delegations to Philadelphia for a Constitutional Convention.
The Virginia Plan
James Madison arrived in Philadelphia several days before the scheduled arrival of the other delegates did. Madison had been studying the various forms of governments, from the Athenian Democracy, to Confederate forms of government and a federal form of government. Madison’s plan, which came to be known as the “Virginia Plan”, called for a strong central government. Charles Pinckney from South Carolina presented a similar plan. While many of the ideas of Pinckney’s plan appeared in the final version of the United States Constitution, the Virginia Plan was the only plan seriously considered.
The Purpose and Intent of the Electoral College
The original Virginia Plan called for the President of the United States to be elected for a single term, and to be elected by a popular vote from the Congress. However, there was strong objection by several states for allowing the President to be chosen by the Congress. These states argued for a direct vote of the people to elect the Executive Office under the proposed Constitution. James Wilson, a member from the state of Pennsylvania proposed a compromise that would allow “Electors” from the states to be used to elect the President of the United States. Each state would have a number of Electors who would be chosen during the election. Then the candidate who won the popular vote would have his electors cast votes for his election in the Senate of the United States. The number of Electors each state would be based on the population of each individual state.
Part of the reason for the choice for the Electoral College was because of legal slavery in the United States. This led to the “Three Fifths Compromise” which counted slaves as three fifths of a person.
What Was the Intent of the Founding Fathers on the Electoral College?
The founding fathers were leery of mob rule and opposed the direct election of executive branch. The political environment of the American Experiment is quite different from the environment that Americans face today.
After the new proposed Constitution was sent to the 13 states for ratification, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison published a series of essays and articles arguing for the ratification of the New Constitution. The three men wrote under the common pseudonym of Publius. These writing are now known as the Federalist Papers.
In the Federalist Paper Number 10, Madison, argued that the American people should delegate the selection of a President to a group of men who were able to coolly reason the consequences of the election of a certain type of President.
Alexander Hamilton, who is credited with the publishing of the Federalist Paper Number 68 also argued for the use of the Electoral Votes for the election of the President of the United States. Alexander wrote, “…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.”
Why a Modification of the Electoral College is Necessary
The founding fathers did not foresee the development and rise of partisan political parties. They assumed, from their own personal economic and social standings viewpoint, that the ruling class of the American people would cooperate to form a good government. This is the main reason the vote was only extended to certain segments of the American population. It would be this way until the time of Andrew Jackson, and his agitation for the vote to be extended to a larger segment of the American people.
Universal suffrage for men would not be enshrined in Constitutional Law until the passage of the 14thAmendment in 1868.
How to Update the Electoral College and Maintain It
Since the presidential election of 2000, two of the presidential elections have seen a President of the United States lose the popular vote in presidential elections, but win the Presidency based on winning the Electoral College. Because of this, there have been increasing calls for the abolishment of the Electoral College in presidential politics.
The dynamics that led to the adoption of the Electoral College in the beginning are still present. In order to abolish the Electoral College, there would need to be a Constitutional Amendment.
“…Amendments may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a convention of states called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures…”
The smaller populated states would almost certainly block such an amendment to abolish the Electoral College. However, it is possible to make the Electoral College more responsive to the will of the American people by making the awarding of electoral votes proportional, rather than the winner take all formula followed by the majority of the associated states of the Union.
A Selected Example of How a Proportional Electoral College Would Have Affected the 2016 Presidential Election
Had the Electoral College been proportional during the 2016 presidential election, the electoral vote would have been more representative of the population at large. For illustration, this example will concentrate on some of those states with the largest electoral votes.
California currently has 55 electoral votes.
California: Clinton won the state of California electoral votes with 61.73% of the vote. President Trump received 30.11%
Clinton: 55*61.73%= 33.95 electoral votes. Trump: 55*30.11= 16.56 electoral votes. This is 50.51 electoral votes. The remaining 4.49 votes would have been appropriated to fringe candidates.
Texas currently has 38 electoral votes:
Trump: 38*52.23%= 19.84 electoral votes Clinton: 38*43.24% = 16.42 electoral votes. The remaining 1.74 electoral votes would have been appropriated to fringe candidates.
The mean results would have been: Clinton with 50.37 electoral votes and Trump with 36.40 electoral votes.
There would have to be adjustments for the examples given. This could be addressed in the amendment to the Constitution.
The Electoral College was devised by the ruling class of the United States at the beginning of our country to prevent direct rule by the American people. It is time for the American people to have unfettered rule over who governs them, and who does not.
Richard E. Caroll is a retired economist and soldier.