I have already heard people talking once again about the need to do away with the electoral college. I say no. There is a specific reason why the electoral college was a brilliant idea by our founders but first I would like to explain what it is.

Q: Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College?

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A: The Founding Fathers who framed of the Constitution didn’t trust direct democracy.


Why does the United States have an Electoral College vote when it would be so easy to choose a president by popular vote? That is to say; why not just elect a president who has the most votes, as we do for all the other political offices? Shouldn’t the person with the MOST votes win?


When U.S. citizens go to the polls to “elect” a president, they are in fact voting for a particular slate of electors in their state. In every state but Maine and Nebraska, the candidate who wins the most votes (that is, the popular vote of that state) then that state receives all of that individual state’s electoral votes. The number of electors in each state is the sum of its U.S. senators and its U.S. representatives. (The District of Columbia has three electoral votes, which is the number of senators and representatives it would have if it were permitted representation in Congress.) The electors meet in their respective states 41 days after the popular election. There, they cast a ballot for president and a second for vice president. A candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes to be elected president.

The reason that the Constitution calls for this extra layer, rather than just providing for the direct election of the president by popular vote totals, is that most of the nation’s founders were actually rather afraid of smaller states getting no representation at the voting booth. James Madison worried about what he called “factions,” which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole. Madison’s fear;  which Alexis de Tocqueville later dubbed “the tyranny of the majority”  was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50 percent of the population, at which point it could “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Madison has a solution for tyranny of the majority: “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

As Alexander Hamilton writes in “The Federalist Papers,” the Constitution is designed to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The point of the Electoral College is to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen “by 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.”

In modern practice, the Electoral College is mostly a formality. Most electors are loyal members of the party that has selected them, and in 26 states, plus Washington, D.C., electors are bound by laws or party pledges to vote in accord with the popular vote. Although an elector could, in principle, change his or her vote (and a few actually have over the years), doing so is rare.

As the 2000 election reminded us, the Electoral College does make it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote and still not become president. But that is less a product of the Electoral College and more a product of the way states apportion electors. In every state but Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis. So if a candidate wins a state by even a narrow margin, he or she wins all of the state’s electoral votes. The winner-take-all system is not federally mandated; states are free to allocate their electoral votes as they wish.

The Electoral College was not the only Constitutional limitation on direct democracy, though we have discarded most of those limitations. Senators were initially to be appointed by state legislatures, and states were permitted to ban women from voting entirely. Slaves got an even worse deal, as a slave officially was counted as just three-fifths of a person. The 14th Amendment abolished the three-fifths rule and granted (male) former slaves the right to vote. The 17th Amendment made senators subject to direct election, and the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Joe Miller

If we were to choose a president by popular vote then California and NY would always choose our presidents because they have the most people in those states. In other words it is the most fair when each state is designated a number of electoral votes. You vote to give your electoral votes to the most popular person in your state and it is a winner take all system.  TO make it simple for you to understand: The people in each state vote to give their popular vote to a set o apportioned electors and the candidate who reaches 270 electors wins the presidency. So you see it is the popular vote which wins the state but its the popular vote of YOUR state. Each state represents itself, and its citizens represent the popular vote of their state and so on and so forth. Hope I cleared that up. It is still the best system for equal representation.


Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist No. 68.” The Federalist Papers [1788]. Accessed at The Library of Congress Web site. 28 Jan. 2008.

Madison, James. “Federalist No. 10.” The Federalist Papers [1787]. Accessed at The Library of Congress Web site. 28 Jan. 2008.

de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, vol. 1. Accessed at the University of Virginia Department of American Studies Web site. 28 Jan. 2008.

Office of the Federal Register, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Web site,FAQ, 11 Feb. 2008.


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